Let Me Wave my Magical Content Wand

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It usually starts something like this:

Hey! Everyone I know is on Instagram! We should start an Instagram for the company!

The suggestion in itself isn’t wrong per se, it’s just not made with much of an understanding of how these social platforms work. It takes less than 5 minutes to set up an Instagram account (if you have an iPhone or an Android). That’s the simple part. But then the real work begins.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.43.16 PMPeople who rarely use social networks love platforms…even when they, themselves, admit to not having enough time to use them. That’s pretty much what they see: platforms and the numbers. “Why aren’t we on Pinterest/Foursquare/Tumblr/Google+/You Tube/Instagram/etc?” they’ll ask. They’ll tell you about all sorts of other companies who have set up multiple accounts on multiple platforms and how they read about it on Mashable. They’ll hint at being concerned about your expertise or ability to execute because you haven’t created accounts everywhere. They may even say, “It takes 5 minutes to set it up!”

But what people who don’t use social networks much fail to understand is that picking a platform means that you need to create ongoing content for that platform. Content requires a strategy and ongoing production of said content. And monitoring, measuring and tweaking of that content (and strategy). And community management of the inbound reactions to that content, especially if, heaven willing, you do a great job of the content and your account on said platform gets very popular. And all of these things take a lot of time and deep understanding of your audience, your competitors, your product, the overall trends, current events, knowledge of the industry (and surrounding industries), analytics, what are best/worst practices, gathering of ideas, photoshop skills, camera skills, editing skills, a good eye for a shot skills, writing skills, translation skills, people skills and technical skills.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.16.05 PMCreating content for a brand (company, organization or individual) is like running a news room…but even more complicated because it needs to be interactive. You need to plan out a certain amount of content (ideally daily for weeks in advance) for each platform like you would for each segment, then you also need to be on top of current events and issues to be able to switch it out on the fly to seize opportunities in the moment. You need to keep people entertained and continue to grow with your audience. You need to be relevant and entertaining, but create enough deep engagement that you are building a solid loyalty base.

In addition to this, you need to achieve your own goals through the content. If you are selling something, it’s number of sales leads. If you need sign ups to your app, you need to drive people to your site (off of whichever social network) to sign up. If you are raising money for a cause, you need to compel your followers to go and give money. There are several things you need to balance: building an audience and driving people to your goal (often off-site) and the two are mutually dependent. If your content isn’t entertaining, you’ll lose your audience, and have nobody to build loyalty and long term sales with, but if you only entertain and never convert them to buyers, you are wasting your time. And the balance is tricky.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.57.50 PMAnd I haven’t even started to talk about how each platform needs to be approached from a different angle with unique content strategies. Cross-posting content between platforms rarely works. There are different rules (Twitter, for instance, is limited to 140 characters, while blog articles can go more in depth to make a point). There are different tones (Tumblr is fun and casual with a hipster flair for design, while Google+ takes a more information sharing and analytical tone). There are different audiences (Pinterest is dominated by women, while Reddit is male-heavy). There are different functions (Foursquare is great if you have physical locations to promote, while Quora is a fantastic way to show your expertise in an area). Different platforms work better with different media (YouTube is all videos, while Instagram is all images). And some platforms are richer than others (Sure Twitter allows for posting images and video, but the real time rapidity means you should focus on the text, while Facebook posts thrive with images and other ‘sharables’ and text falls flat).

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.01.22 PMAll of this is to say: content doesn’t just appear magically out of thin air with a wave of a magic social fairy wand. And there have been many of my colleagues beating this drum for years, but their message is more and more prescient over time as every brand is expected to be on practically every platform, but have no idea what that means.

Why they hire interns or outsource to people to create this crucial content that is SUCH a crucial part of their marketing and customer relationships is beyond me. But part of it is education and part of it is the plethora of ‘gurus/ninjas/polkaroos‘ who know the buzzwords and how to copycat content, but not how to create relationships. People, you get what you pay for. But why should I be surprised? Companies spent decades outsourcing their customer service – the point of the best opportunity to create a lifelong loyal customer and evangelist – and have focused on new customer acquisition over the more lucrative current customer retention and growth opportunities for as long as I’ve been on this earth.

/rant

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.16.10 PMWhat I mean to say is: CONTENT IS IMPORTANT. And there is a specific skill and finesse to doing content well that may seem like magic to most people. It requires left/right brained people with sharp critical thinking skills. The type of people who have big libraries of books (that they actually read) and are constantly checking their mobile phones for the latest news and world events. This person consumes more content in a day than most people consume in a year. S/he has so much knowledge in her/his head from so many different industries and disciplines that s/he will connect dots you would NEVER think to connect and sometimes the connection is only clear in her/his head (but it is usually innovative). This person studies people and networks and gets giddy when the data uncovers counter-intuitive evidence. Her/his instincts are sharp even though s/he can’t fully explain where her/his idea comes from. This is not a full or completely accurate description of this person. But it’s a start. And that person should really be internal to your organization.

The thing is, it IS magic, but in the Arthur C. Clarke way (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”). It rarely takes years of school to hone this skill. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science. But it does take years of life* (and some severe ADHD). And most of all, it takes a huge amount of respect…for the customers, the importance of content, the brand and the media.

There is a magic content wand, but most of the world are Muggles, and those of you with the magic should understand that it’s not so simple to describe magic to a Muggle. (so if you circulate this post, remove this last bit)

* I, by no means mean years as in one has to be older to be good at this. I know lots of 20-somethings that have ‘the knack’.

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Categories: community, eMarketing, featured, marketing

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.

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9 Comments on “Let Me Wave my Magical Content Wand”

  1. January 11, 2013 at 21:02 #

    Awesome stuff. Just had to say…I actually got to meet Polkaroo. Sadly he passed away a couple years ago, but I can say I met him (and he was freakin’ awesome).

  2. January 12, 2013 at 21:24 #

    Nice posting. Difficult to say what engages and attracts participation but I agree that being multi-platformed and serious about it can lead to kind of dissipation. A pose of attentiveness that skims the surface. Can people be distracted, distributed and purposeful at the same time? Think so though it’s more a case of being open, changeable and as my father who was in advertising said a serious fool:-)

    Thanks for this.

  3. January 14, 2013 at 17:39 #

    Great stuff, Tara. Keep up the good fight.

    As your friend mine, Doc Searls, said when the word “content” started being applied to every form of expression known to exist: ” Stop calling everything ‘content.’ It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures* of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call ‘editorial’ Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”

    I do the same work for clients I did 25 years ago. It was called custom publishing or custom media back then (or, in the UK and Canada, “customer media” — still what I use to describe it). Back then, we embraced CompuServe and something Apple labeled, “interactive multimedia.” We still publish print magazines that work right along with the apps, web and social media we create for clients.

    But I cringe when I hear the word “content” used to grind all of if these amazing forms of media into some form of mushy soy-burger meat substitute.

    Having the ability to connect personally with customers through all of the ‘net enabled channels and approaches is an incredible opportunity given those of us lucky enough to be around today.

    It bothers me when people slap a label on it like “content marketing” or “social media” that sets back by a decade or so the true realization of what a transformation can take place after we stop trying to retro-fit old ideas into the new…and begin to serve customers in revolutionary new ways.

  4. January 15, 2013 at 13:16 #

    Great post. You nailed the attitude of “why don’t we have an accounts everywhere”. In addition to the social media platform pressure, of late I have regularly seen the question of why don’t we offer this app and that app too. Where the apps are effectively new content platforms that have content requirements as well.

    It sounds like some CMOs are at least starting to understand the challenge, as David Edelman’s report on McKinsey’s CMO & Sales Officer Forum commented on how they were becoming aware of “the newsroom-like style in which we now manage our social media activities” (http://cmsoforum.mckinsey.com/organizing-for-growth/prediction-for-2013-operations-becomes-a-key-word-in-marketers-vocabulary).

    When faced with this pressure I find the most interesting and often most difficult part of the conversation is turning it backwards. Asking the customer/business partner to look at their existing platforms. Asking whether the existing content is up their desired standards and/or volume. More often than not these existing channels have insufficient and poor quality content. Which leads me to believe that the “grow our territory” strategy (if you can call it a strategy) by opening a slew of social media accounts is merely a deflection tactic. They are trying to avoid the bigger challenge of hiring the right people who can produce the content that is desperately needed.

  5. January 17, 2013 at 17:03 #

    Yes! Thank you so much for writing this.

    So often the thinking is ‘more is better’ when it comes to setting up social media profiles. It’s much more effective to select a few strategic places to develop a social media following and then do it well.

    As you said, it’s about weighing your resources (time, money, and accessibility) vs. your goals and how well each platform can serve them AND where your target audience resides.

  6. January 17, 2013 at 17:13 #

    Simply brilliant.

    I am actually taking up a new role as a social media engager which involves producing content for each platform we pick. I am personally not active at all on social channels but I have always loved engaging with people as a brand/representation.. And this post really resonated with what I am doing.

    Thanks a ton :)

  7. tr3mendo
    January 18, 2013 at 08:18 #

    So True.

    And when you report that it took 20hrs in a week to follow daily 4-6 company accounts ( you produced content, found and shared relevant content, etc etc etc…) they say: “What? 20 hours to publish a post on Facebook?”

    In my mind i did so many facepalms…

    • January 18, 2013 at 15:54 #

      OMG…I know that facepalm SO well.

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