My friend Stanford Smith wrote a thought-provoking article last week, The Difference Between Content Marketing and Social Media and Why You Should Care and it got me thinking about how these trends are intertwined.
I think the buzz on “content marketing” is an opportunity for redemption from years of social media silliness. This is what I mean…
The failure of social media marketing
The opportunity to connect with customers through social media is a legitimate and historically important marketing opportunity. When was the last time an innovation truly changed the way we thought about marketing? The breath-taking shifts in social media make us re-think our opportunities almost every day.
For an executive who has been running a marketing department for 20 years, this may be disconcerting news. The basic concept behind print advertising hasn’t really changed for centuries. A shift in how we market though television has occurred about every 10 years or so. Even websites are pretty easy to understand. But keeping up with the tectonic shifts of the social web? Intimidating.
For 90 percent of the companies I see, the social strategy is this: Create a Facebook page and Twitter account to check the “social media box” and hope the whole thing blows over.
And that is silly.
So when I see the latest poll that says small business owners are not seeing a return for their social media efforts, I think to myself that they are asking the wrong question. The question should be “Do you really have any idea what you’re doing?”
I predict there would be a close correlation between those who answer “no” (which is 90 percent) and those who are also not seeing a return.
Enter content marketing
Now we have this new buzzword “content marketing” that is gaining legitimacy. This was a major topic at SXSW this year. Entire conferences have been created around the idea. A respected senior advertising exec just jumped ship to join a start-up content marketing firm.
Advertising agencies have a right to be concerned because nobody sees their ads any more. Newspapers are dying. Technology allows us to avoid TV ads. Click-throughs on online ads are dropping every year — they are essentially invisible.
So how do we get our message out? By creating content related to our brand that is so good it is even better than mainstream news and entertainment.
What’s the difference?
At the core, there isn’t much difference between a social media strategy and a content marketing strategy. Both are about connecting to relevant online customers, serving them with helpful content, and encouraging engagement in a way that ultimately leads to some interaction and business benefit (like a sale).
But there is one big difference. You might be able to fake a social media strategy by checking a box. You can’t fake a content marketing strategy because there has to be some thought and effort behind the content for anybody to pay attention. You have to consistently create something meaningful for any initiative to work.
A second chance for social media
The legitimate idea of social media marketing has become lost in a sea of simplistic guru-isms like “It’s all about the conversation,” “It’s all about the listening” and of course the famous “Measuring the ROI of social media is like measuring the ROI of your mother.” All of these handy sayings are simply a disservice to businesses everywhere.
In the eyes of a seasoned businessperson, social media marketing seems silly, because we have made it that way by embracing these decidedly non-business anthems.
Content marketing might represent a “do-over” for social media. We have an opportunity to have a more mature focus and put the emphasis on real business results instead of a strategy based on the fear of being left behind because we don’t have a Facebook page.
This re-branding is an opportunity to create great work that engages our customers in a manner that leads to measurable gains in awareness, action, and eventually loyalty — which is what social media marketing should have been about all along.