The one core secret to social media marketing success

social media secrets

I know this blog post title might sound a bit simplistic — perhaps sensational — coming from me, but I do think there is one core idea to consider when starting a social media strategy that is often misunderstood … or missed all together.  So I hope this explanation will help a lot of people struggling to figure things out!

You could go blind reading tricks, tips and strategies for social media marketing success. But after being immersed in this space for many years now and having counseled thousands of business owners, executives and students, I think there is really one core idea everyone needs to consider when embarking on this journey.

Most companies and individuals start with an examination of platforms. Do I need a Facebook page? A blog? A Twitter account?  Where do I start and how do I get going?

Instead, I think there is another fundamental question to ask: “What is the source of my rich content?”

Let me explain what I mean by this strange little question with a story.

A small case study

Two years ago I wrote a blog post about a new company on the scene named Klout, which had the audacity to suggest that it could measure your online influence.  Nobody had really heard about it at the time so it was a very interesting subject. Here’s what happened:

The comment section blew up. People from all over the world chimed in with ideas, questions and concerns. So people engaged with the content and also provided lots of thought-provoking ideas for me to consider. In fact, these discussions ultimately led to the idea of writing a book about this entirely new trend of social influence.

The post went viral.  It was tweeted about 1,000 times and was shared across multiple platforms. My ideas spread.

Many people were so interested in this topic that they blogged about my blog, providing additional discussion and other means to spread my ideas and my post.

A few weeks after I wrote the post, I received a call from a New York Times reporter. She was doing an article on this new trend, Googled it, and found my post.  The social validation of the shares, comments, and back links undoubtedly helped guide her search to me.

She wrote an article which appeared in the Sunday New York Times. The article was subsequently syndicated by hundreds of newspapers across the U.S. and the world. A London Daily Mail reporter saw the article and generated an entirely new piece using my quotes.

The results are in

Let’s summarize the business benefits of this one blog post:

  • Writing the post helped clarify my thinking on a subject and create useful content for my readers.
  • The content spread virally, attracting thousands of new people to my site and my business.
  • Comments on the blog provided me with lots of new ideas and helped create an idea for something bigger — a book.
  • Since the original content was shared so much, it helped influence Google’s search results.
  • The blog post attracted the attention of a reporter from a very important newspaper, resulting in millions of impressions for my personal brand in newspapers around the world.

Now here is the key question to consider. Would any of this happened if I had only posted my thoughts on the subject through a Facebook post, a tweet, or a LinkedIn update? Of course not. I needed to provide rich content to have a chance at benefits like this.

There is no guarantee something like this will happen to you if you create original, rich content.  But I do guarantee it will never happen if you don’t.

Defining rich content

One common mantra we all hear over and over again is “content is king.”

And this is true, but not just any content will do.  A link, a funny photo, a famous quote, or even a recipe or coupon are legitimate types of content, but these are not the types of content that will optimize your social media presence and bring you powerful, lasting results. To really go for it, you must have at least one source of original rich content and you probably have just three viable options:

A blog.

A podcast.

A video series.

Only in-depth, conversational content from at least one of these sources will provide the content fuel to give you a chance to reap the immense benefits from a social media strategy.

There are other possible secondary sources — photographic content, Slideshare presentations, perhaps a Pinterest page — but I think the three tried and true sources accessible to most businesses are blogs, podcasts, and video.

Once you make that decision and begin to execute, you’ll have the content behind you that powers whatever social media platforms you choose. A source of rich content provides something that is then shareable, conversational, and engaging for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms.

So after you have a solid business and marketing strategy in place and you are ready to embark on this wonderful social media journey, I suggest your first question should be, “What is the source of my rich content?”

The floor is yours. What do you think? Make sense?

Illustration: “Our Secret” by Angela Treat Lyon

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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  • Arne

    So true. It’s also the hardest, most time consuming part of your social media strategy and therefore the most neglected by most.

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  • I certainly agree you have to have a core platform and blogging, video and podcasting allow for the deepest content. But I’ve seen people who gain influence by focusing on Twitter exclusively. Rare? Definitely. But they are out there.

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  • Manish

    This is a million dollar question “What is the source of content?” the most probable answer according to many experts would be blog creation and sharing your thoughts. There are also many other ideas like read latest updates, newsletters and keep eye on your targated niche through the platform on which you want to share your thoughts i.e. Social Media.

  • Useful and good post .

  • Hey Mark, I agree 100%. I have referred to it before as your ‘meaty content’. What’s the juicy content you start with that you can share or get shared through Twitter, Facebook etc.

    I think a webinar can be a good place for producing meaty content also.


  • I couldn’t agree with you more. It is ALL about content. Producing insightful, value-adding, interesting, thought-provoking and sharable material on a regular basis establishes you as a thought leader and a “go to” person when a person needs help. Thank you for the great article!

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  • MrTonyDowling

    A really interesting post Mark, its really made me think.
    I guess this is a little like asking what your company’s USP is, or competitive advantage, before commencing the marketing campaign for it!
    Entirely good advice as always, a great way to stretch the brain out this Monday morning!

  • I think you nailed it. And if you can’t think of where this juicy content comes from – it probably means you don’t have a lot to say. So don’t open that twitter account. Great post!

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  • Fully agree – it might take some time to build (and expectation management is relevant here I think) but it does have the most profound impacts!

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  • Debbie Leven

    Mark – a really thought provoking blog that sums it up for me – rich content in the right format, shared in the right way that resonates with your audiences. Thanks.

  • Content may be king but having a vast audience to accelerate the spread of the topic is queen and we know which one rules the castle. There have been several topics that I’ve written about early in the game that certainly have not gotten nearly the attention as that post of yours. Granted we’re not comparing apples to apples (between you and I) but if you don’t have a vast audience to help spread your message for you, all the self-promoting in the world isn’t going to help.

  • Absolutely! Well said.

  • Yes, of course there are exceptions to everything. There are probably people who are getting traction through AOL news groups too : ) Thanks Janet!

  • I think you’re hinting at aggregated content being a source of rich content, which is certainly a legitimate suggestion Manish. Many thanks for adding this idea!

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  • Great addition Ian. This is certainly true but the problem is, is it sustainable? Usually a webinar is one and done so you might get a spike and then you need to find something else. A series of webinars would be a superb source of content.

  • Glad this resonated with you David. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • You had me at “you could go blind…”Cheers! Kaarina

  • Great feedback, and I have been thinking about this a lot lately — how has the nature of the USP changed? Does it even exist any more, or do you need serial USPs? Kind of goes against the grain of conventional thinking but I think this is changing.

  • Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for letting me know.

  • An interesting point about expectations. There are rarely overnight successes!

  • Thanks for joining in today Debbie. Glad to “hear your voice” today : )

  • I think you have given me an idea for a blog post! First, I certainly agree that you have to ignite your content for it to work, and that had to be step two. But size of audience is related to your objectives. For example, I would think it would be strange if a bakery in my local strip mall had 55,000 Twitter followers. In fact, it would be counter-productive. A tribe of 2,000 engaged followers from a 3-mile radius of the population would be perfect. So if the bakery can ignite content among those people, they would probably consider it a success, even if it does not go viral around the world. My audience, however, is more or less limitless. I can help people in any corner of the world so reaching a different kind of audience is a better strategy for me. See, the new post is already going!!!

  • Ha!!! It just comes out. : )

  • :))))

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  • I love that phrase, “rich content.” That’s wonderful, Mark. Thank you.

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  • Not to be confused with “bitch content” which also seems to be popular on the social web, especially when your plane is delayed : )

  • Yes. Yes. and for clarity – Yes. Build your network with people that are interested in the success of you and your business. Share your thoughts and observations about your industry/hobby/niche/etc. Participate in the conversation that happens as a result of your sharing. Well said – and love the evidence you present with your blog post about Klout.

  • Thanks Mark. In thinking about this further – timing is key too.

  • I love you used one of my friends Angela Treat Lyon’s images 😉

    Yes, Ian and I both resonate with meaty content and it is one reason why I have kept my radio show interviews for a full 60 min. It was not our design to go after everyone who wanted a business tip only ( we offer those at beginning of the show though ). We wanted to reach people who wanted more than a sound byte, they wanted depth and understanding.

    Wondering Mark, how many times people are “really” coming at it from a strategic perspective? Or they see someone popular and want to duplicate their success? It is not bad to want to duplicate someone’s success. It is bad it you are not generating it from your own purpose – so you own it!

  • Thank you Mark for this opportunity to share the source of my content…

    I draw my inspiration from the books I read; from my family, and friends; from life; from people i work with, my clients, fans, and followers.

  • Thanks for the validation Charlene : )

  • Michele I sense you are correct that most of the time people are trying to duplicate others. This is a recipe for failure. It seems like the easy answer but to stand out you have to be original and to be original you must have the courage to tap into your own story and points of differentiation.

    So jealous you know Angela. Her art is sublime. I hope everybody buys her prints!

  • Solid advice! You are a role model in that you are at peace with your life and can draw inspiration from all around you instead of trying to be another sheep in a flock. Thanks as always Dr. Rae!

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  • Nice to be reminded to think about your source of rich content, Mark. I shall indulge you all in my source since “I may have the floor.” (plug to my site not intended) My source of content is LIVE musical performances by musicians on webcam. But here’s the twist – the content is ONLY live and never recorded. Isn’t that a kicker in today’s theres-a-copy-of-everything-on-the-web world?! So how is content that lasts only a fleeting moment useful? Well, when someone in our community gets to witness special “moments” during live performances, they tend to talk about it later on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    Here’s an example that happened just last night. A young musician from Nashville sang the most unbelievable rendition of Edelweiss (from the Sound of Music) live on cam. People were stunned by her voice and sent her a ton of virtual tokens (tips paid out through PayPal). I know it’s a cliche to say this girl has a voice of an angle – but if there are angles, this is what they would sound like. Anyway, it was such an amazing moment, we captured a screenshot of the girl receiving her tokens with the most precious look on her face. And with her permission, we posted that image on Facebook.

    Now we have some tangible content that people are talking about. But it’s also a tease to all our followers that more great content is back on the site during other live performances. We are basically saying, “you never know what’s gonna happen – so you better check out the site regularly.”

    Thanks for letting me have the floor – back to you…

  • The source of my content ~ I like to fill holes ~ add to thoughts left unfinished by others ~ give a different POV on the same subject ~ embellish (not copy) others’ value ~ you get the idea! So my content is eclectic, something I was told I should not do when I got started blogging~ focus they told me ~ but eclectic worked for me ~ maybe not in the traditional way, but the way I designed.

    One result is I’m doing a lot of guest posts, adding value for others’ blogging.

    Not simplistic at all (your first statement), as I am still hoping you will write the post “The One question an Entrepreneur needs to Ask to be Successful” or at least let me interview you for a post I write:-)

  • bethmwood

    Hi Mark,
    Thought-provoking blog for a Monday morning! I would say that the greatest source of my content comes from my experiences – not just in one industry (in this case, Marketing), but in all of my interests and experiences and how the combination of these shapes my thinking. For example, I’m a Marketer by trade, but also a published writer, so my experiences come from both of these things. I’m also a parent, a boss, an employee, a commuter, a small business owner… I think that most of us are multi-dimensional in our thinking and being – which gives each of us a unique take on any given topic. Even when we are engaged in just listening (a very important tool in social!), the way we listen, what we hear, what our take-a-ways are… all of these things are shaped by our past/present experiences. I think I will be getting my own blog post out of this one… thank you!

  • HA! Let’s not get carried away. AOL?…

  • A really interesting idea. My first reaction is that it is tremendously sub-optimizing the site, the experience and the content by not storing it for further viewing, but maybe that is what makes you different. Quirky content. Why not?

  • Oh and I thought this post would interest you. Come put in your .02 Mark

  • Of course I would be very happy to help out!

  • awesome! would love to see that. I think my blog is similar. It’s all under one umbrella, but I cover a lot of ground, bringing in my experiences and interests in many different areas. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

  • Ernest Thompson

    Of course, if the content leads to the subsequent content lacking depth, that can be a major problem. I read your book and found it to be fairly light in focus and insights, for example.

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  • Thankfully, you are nearly alone in that opinion but I appreciate the dissenting viewpoint Ernest.

  • Here’s the homerun line, “I do guarantee it will never happen if you don’t.”

    I would push back on you a little about Slideshare in that it’s 2nd tier content. I don’t think that many people are producing quality slideshows but I know people using Slideshare are reaping amazing benefits while at the same time providing immense amounts of value to readers… Semantics to your overall point, but the few slideshows I’ve shared on Slideshare have generated some great new relationships.

    All the best,


  • “The definition of talent is desire”. – Radu Vero. When you share your passion, it can change lives – even your own.

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  • Agree with you. Slideshare does have the potential to be strong content. I hesitate to push it to first tier though … how many Slideshare subscriptions do you have? How many business successes have been tied to a viral Slideshare effort? For that reason, I put it down a peg.

  • All things being equal, I agree! However nothing is equal. We have different audiences – some large, some small, some listening some not. Also… credibility, a brand that doesn’t suck, and a little bit of good timing would defintely help the cause. Just my 2 sense.

  • Thank you Mark! I am a work-in-progress, and pleased to share the road I travel! ~Rae

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  • great post Mark. Choosing your best source of rich content and then deciding on how to distribute this content is a critical decision that is often rushed by many. Also, when it comes to distribution – I think it is worth asking whether getting 100 shares from enthusiastic supporter (aka advocates) is worth more than 1000 shares from people who are not enthusiastic. I think the impact of content shared by advocates holds more promise and displays a high degree of authenticity (this is obviously a topic for another day 🙂

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  • You’re absolutely right on blogs and podcasts (and video series or blog) being top-tier content. We figured out how to use a podcast model to source the writing for the blog posts. Now, we’re working on ways to take the podcast and get it onto Youtube, even if it’s just put together with a logo and photos as backgrounder.

    The really nice part about using the podcast as the source is that when you use an interviewer, you can batch-create a series of posts in a single recording session. Our clients are spending about 1-hour per month talking via Skype and we’re turning those conversations into weekly posts and podcasts. They spend no time typing. For a business owner who has little time to spare for writing, this is a good way to create rich, conversational content, directly from the expert’s mouth.

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  • Of course. You have to have your ducks in a row first. : )

  • If somebody shares your content, how can you tell if they are enthusiastic? : )

    Research shows that in general, people do NOT share content so I think you are right in that surrounding yourself with people who care about you is key! Thank you my friend!

  • Love this. A great model!

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  • Chanel Piccione

    Great post! I have a question though, how does one “get the word out there”? I am looking after all the social mediums for work but it doesn’t look like it gets seen for example on our blog, there are no comments. How does one reach more people and gain readers and interact with them?

  • That is precisely the next question to ask! Content that does not move and engage is not doing much good for you is it? You need to make it ignite and that is difficult, but here are some ideas for you here:

  • Minor typo: covnersational

  • Since I was traveling to/from Toronto the last couple of days, I wanted to make sure that *my* flights weren’t delayed before replying. Else who knows what other kind of content I might have come up with? 😉

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  • Well said Kristen.
    Only good content isn’t enough. Good content doesn’t send traffic…Traffic has to come from various sources. Whether from search engine or from social and content channels. I could realize it only after I wasted over a year in doing nothing but writing. Your effective presence across Internet Socialsprere will help your voice reach across thousands…

  • Absolutely true Mark. The people, ideas, philosophies and concepts that we truly love generate or inspire rich content. But personally I believe, we must unclutter our mind to unleash our creativity. Would love to hear your views.

  • ross_boardman

    This makes a lot of good sense. Having relevant content is going to attract the relevant audience. I am not sure that size of community is a good thing if you can’t mingle with them?

    The source? Some great ideas here. Different people like means of delivery. A podcast can work for the commuter. It must come down to what is searchable and what is linkable? Also, how easy is your content to like or share etc?

    Does much content get picked up from the source or from the people actively whispering about it? An example of this is the amount of finds from Twitter or Facebook posts.

    Blogs/articles are probably the seed of much content. A real question is how this same content gets in front of others. Does it get picked up by people following the blog or from people mentioning the blog? That is the influence piece surely?

  • Thanks Mark. It works so well, we spun it off as a separate business from our consulting work. We’re kind of a boutique, but we’re actively looking for new customers and even marketers or SEO folk who need a way for their own clients to easily produce the content that they know they need. We call it Shortcut Blogging. A link is in my profile.

  • Thanks Dr. A!

  • You are asking all the right questions. Yo have the seeds of a great blog post here Ross!

  • An advertisement thinly veiled as a comment. I’ll let you get by this time!

  • Heh!

  • Thanks for cutting me some slack! Send me info about your ads. We also do referral revenue.

  • Jia

    yes, I agree with the good content there are so many other things which are equally important like good content.

  • Great Post!

    Above mentioned results of your Klout related post are very much interesting.

    After reading the post I can conclude that social media is a Grand road while blog posts/videos/podcasts are the ultimate destination place to serve the clients/readers. One cannot consider social media as the ultimiate destination, rather it should be considered as a way to move or direct people to the ultimiate destination (Blog/podcast/video).

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  • True Mark. Perhaps your simplest and best advice yet! I would add that the rich content does not have to be lengthy nor complex to make it valuable and shareworthy

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  • Jeff Yurek

    I think this point about understanding your audience can’t be understated. I write a blog about color science and emerging display technologies, a pretty niche topic to say the least! By focusing on creating valuable, original content for the few people and organizations that are REALLY into this topic, I’ve been able to have a big impact on the conversation in my small industry. Without tons of followers or page views, we’ve achieved some important and measurable business results. It’s been an eye opening experience and truly made me a believer that it really is all about the content and the results, not the stats.

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  • Absolutely, Mark! What a refreshing post!

    The other day, a couple of people in the monthly Twitter chat I host started casually talking about how cute cats are and how they move people. Since the whole discussion was off-topic, I asked the following: “Yes, cat are cute. But do they sell?”

    Your article is a perfect answer. Thank you!

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  • I agree wholeheartedly, for once lol, with your idea here. And this fascinates Mee. Rich Content, you used the example of a king, so that makes Mee think that a king needs his space, his own castle. Like a king mattress, a place to spread out. Compared to a facebook status, or a twitter update, which are tiny compared to a blog or video and gives the “room with a view” a king sized bed, or the king’s kingdom to spread out. To create the space needed for your idea to take form.

  • Billy Delaney

    We can run, on these webs, but we cannot hide, which I have unsuccessfully tried to do. Thank you for your help in facing this fact. The source is backed up by the courage to let it out and onto the open page of public consumption. The right road leads out at the right place for the individual who does not mimic, copy or follow the digital echo’s that abound. I love this post for its simplicity, found in your knowing ways.

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  • fantastic writing secret to social media marketing success.i am always find good article.

  • I am a new comer to social media marketing. It was really very helpful for me. Thanks for the details post.

  • Good luck and thanks for reading my blog!

  • I don’t know how much creative tasks on there…! I just believe that everything is possible with creative mind.

  • i like this that great.i am trying to do like

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