A Facebook fan page and/or a Twitter account used to mean you were special. It meant your company was not only savvy enough to know about social media, but actually knew how to use it. Now though, just about every marketer out there is crafting the ultimate fan page or Twitter profile just because they can. When I saw a "Become a fan on Facebook" notice at my local diner, I knew the movement had hit critical mass.
The social media strategy for many companies is to "build it and they will come." But just as in life, simply showing up is not enough. You have to establish a business objective and a corresponding strategy to help you achieve that objective. Common objectives include building brand recognition and awareness, driving sales, finding new customers, and speaking to current customers. So what is the best tactic for social media engagement? Original content.
Content marketing has become one of the most important trends in the field, especially as mass markets dissolve and media choices multiply ad nauseam. Smart and savvy companies have positioned themselves as authoritative experts and trusted sources of information by creating their own content. These companies understand that when they become the media, they strengthen their bonds with their customers.
Here are six guidelines for turning your social media network into your own content media channel.
1. Determine the information needs of your audience. What are they reading, watching, and linking to for content? What topics bind them together as a community? If you don't know, do research to gain insight on your audience's needs and behaviors.
2. Put a team together. Once you've figured out the content themes and topics of interest of your community, decide who will be in charge of creating and disseminating the material. If the content creation talent does not exist in-house, look to custom media companies and freelance writers who can "become" your brand. The sweeping cutbacks at media companies over the past year have flooded the market with talented freelancers who would jump at the opportunity to create your content.
3. Inform and educate, don't sell overtly under the guise of content. Become a trusted source of information by providing content that is objective and relevant to your audience. If your content is no more than a thinly veiled sales pitch, at best you'll be ignored, while at the worst you'll be seen as deceptive. Take the high road with quality content and rely on the "halo" effect to help boost sales. Also, stay on message. You will lose your audience if your focus drifts.
4. Keep the content fresh and updated. There is no question about it. You must supply fresh content and new ideas to your audience. Stale content is a turnoff in today's non-stop news and information cycles. Fresh content will also fuel viral conversations. The fresher, more relevant, and up-to-date the content is, the more likely it is that your audience will share it or retweet to their friends and followers.
5. Have a conversation and make it interactive. The best Facebook fan pages and blogs have hundreds of comments per post because readers and fans feel invested enough to comment and to make their voices heard. Encourage your community members to interact with each other and always make known that comments are welcomed. Create a page on which consumers feel comfortable enough to chat and learn. Establish a page and/or profile moderator who can monitor content, serve as customer service, and reply to posts when necessary.
6. Measure social media activity against your objectives and your established benchmarks of success. The most basic metrics are things like the number of fans, Twitter followers, or members in your Linked In group, as well as the number of page views and downloads. Additional -- and perhaps more important -- metrics to consider are things like new leads generated, sales to new or existing customers, and increases in perceptual measures like awareness, affinity, purchase intent, and perception of your brand. Measurement and accountability should be the mantra of every marketer.
Dell has become a standout example of driving sales through content and social networks in B2B marketing. In 2009, the company sold $6.5 million worth of product from its Dell Outlet Twitter account. Overall, Dell has 35 Twitter channels and communities categorized by the type of technology discussed, users' geographic areas, and users' lifestyles and communities.
The company's "Digital Nomads" community (for people who use technology on the road as part of their professional or personal life) contains blogs with original, relevant, and up-to-date content that is distributed through Twitter, a Facebook fan page, and a YouTube channel. The Digital Nomads community members -- "road warriors" -- have come to rely on Dell's content as much as they rely on other news and product information sources. It stands to reason that when a Digital Nomad community member needs a new notebook computer, he or she will think of Dell first.
On the B2C side, Coca-Cola has transformed the way it engages customers. The brand has shifted its emphasis from traditional campaign sites toward social media platforms. Why? Because social media platforms promise more bang for less buck and because a member of the captive and engaged audience on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace is more likely to spread the word about Coke than someone who sees an ad in a magazine.
Instead of just selling Coke through its content, Coca-Cola has also broadened its message to include themes like "live positively," which tie into green ideas and social responsibility.
Each example presented proves that community building through original content produces the desired effect: a gaggle of brand loyalists and advocates. It is no longer acceptable for companies to simply speak to their customers. They must instead speak with them and listen to them. Trusted content is the only way to build community, create a two-way relationship, and foster conversation that will ultimately bring you company closer to your customer.
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