Social Media Content – a Practical Approach

In social media, community isn’t just created it forms around your brand’s good content.  And, what constitutes “good” content is defined by the community, rather than the brand.  But, how can a brand know what the community will respond well to, what does a good response look like, and what content will the community find good enough to share?  The answers to these questions means the difference between effective communities and wasted resources and frustration.

The truth is, most companies are still living by a definition of what good content is that it set years ago. This is the same content that fits standard approval processes. It’s the content that conforms to budgetary guidelines.  And, unfortunately, it’s often content that falls flat, or worse, online.  To account for the public, short attention span, short format of social media, it’s important to begin to look at content through the lens of the consumer and adjust production accordingly.

Two themes can help guide new content production:

1)    Awareness – How well-connected is the brand to its discussion online? Specifically, how dialed into the conversation is the brand on its Facebook page, on Twittter and in blogs.  There’s no better barometer for what content will be most effective in your social channels than a consistent, dedicated presence there.

2)    Understanding – How well does the brand understand key social media indicators.  That is, can it measure the number of views of a videos, the number of clicks to a blog link, etc.  These are the quantitative measures that will inform and substantiate the qualitative insight gained by being an active part of the community.

Defining Content

The definition of what content is has changed for marketers and communicators.  Content doesn’t (rarely) mean a company’s news release.  It also rarely exceeds a five-minute video.  Some of the new forms of content that brands are having success with include:

  • Exclusive Content: communities like to feel apart of something that’s not available to everyone.  If they give you their time and attention, they like to get something in return.  Offering the community something they can’t get elsewhere, or that everyone else can’t get is a good way to fulfill this community need.  Exclusive ringtones, limited edition posters, community chats with celebrities or other influentials or anything additional negotiated as part of a sponsorship can bring new content to social channels. Here is an example of what Chevrolet did at SXSW to bring exclusive content to its Facebook community.
  • Free Offers/Discounts: everyone likes something free. And, everyone likes a deal.  Similar to exclusive content, free offers and discounts can be an effective way to build affinity for your social community.  It’s direct proof that the brand isn’t just after something from the community without bringing something to the table.  But, it’s not just as easy as offering something for nothing.  It needs to be in context and have a purpose.  Online communities can root out things that aren’t what they seem.  And, they’ll have definite views on what’s appropriate and what’s not.  So, make sure your deals or freebies have a purpose, and that any strings are fully disclosed and apparent to the community.
  • Breaking News: there’s an overall thirst for news or inside information that isn’t available anywhere else.  Social channels give companies a platform to break this information – from the inside out.  There’s a balancing act that some brands are finding between staying true to traditional channels for breaking news and using this exclusive information to cultivate and sustain a relationship with its social communities.  But, more often, companies are finding this balance with the type and timing of releasing news.  For companies with a strong consumer following, letting their Facebook fans know about a new product launch minutes before media know about it is giving them the ability to appease both audiences.
  • Infographics: data and other information conveyed through a single image.  Infographics, in addition to conforming to the bite-size packets best consumed through social media, they’re also created in formats that are easily posted and shared online.  And, they’re a great way to extend the reach of your content.
  • Community Engagement: sometimes content isn’t pre-produced or packaged at all.  The most important content you can contribute to you community is the daily dialogue your community manager(s) has with the people on your Facebook wall, in your Twitter stream or on your YouTube channel.  Having an active, engaged presence with the community is the best way to build rapport, dialogue and trust.  In addition to active engagement through wall posts on Facebook, there are other ways to engage the community and gain insight, like using polls.

Distributing Content

Distributing content in social media is three parts brand and one part community.  It’s the brand’s job to put it in places where it can be found, tag it appropriately to be easily searched and in the format that allows the community to do its part and share it.

Putting content in the formats and locations where it can be easily shared is essential for expanding the reach of your message and for bringing new people into your community.  One member of your community might see an infographic on your Facebook wall and decide to share it with her Twitter followers.  Three of those followers might choose to follow that content back to your Facebook page or Twitter stream, and you’ve instantly picked up a few new followers based on not only the value of the content you’ve produced but also based on the third-party recognition of the value of your content expressed by someone sharing that content with others.

Silver Bullets

There are no silver bullets in social media, and social media itself isn’t a silver bullet for marketing success.  Success in social media, just as in traditional marketing, relies on many variables – some within your control, some outside of your control.  Content is just one of those variables.  But, understanding what’s good, relevant and compelling content relies on just a few truths. Having a consistent, engaged presence among the people you’re looking to engage in social media and delivering to them content that’s sharable and compelling is a good start.

Disclosure: Both GM and AT&T are clients.