How to build a better content strategy for social media

Published 10 February 2014 12:32, Updated 11 February 2014 07:10

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How to build a better content strategy for social media

Those who love to drink coffee often have favorite places to do so. They frequent a chosen venue because it’s a great place to hang out. Perhaps they know the owners or the other customers who, like them, regularly drop in to socialise. Without the rich aromas and great-tasting coffee, though, would they show up? Would they go there if there was nothing to drink?

For the most successful companies operating in the realms of social media, this is a governing consideration. They’ve got the fresh content and they’ve brought the crowd, so, as long as they keep serving up this gourmet content, they’ve got a winning virtual hangout.

More often than not, however, companies tend to focus on securing their presence in the race to catch up with competitors. They get the coffee shop, in the form of a presence on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, but forget what they’re serving. Perhaps they serve metaphorical Kool-Aid, which brings a few die-hard believers but leads those who want real flavor to stroll on by to their other haunts.

This is perhaps due to the strong media presence of players such as Facebook, Google+ or Linkedin, or to the vertiginous numbers with which they are typically associated. Nonetheless, the content is what makes the medium social, not the other way around. An empty coffee shop is no good strategy.

Social-media managers typically face two key questions when designing their content strategy.

WHAT KIND OF CONTENT?

First,what type of content should be created? This choice requires defining the goals that should be met beforehand, such as educating customers, improving the brand reputation and/or promoting a new product. After goals are defined, managers should determine what kind of content would best fit the goal or goals to be pursued.

Singtel recently designed a strategy aimed at making the brand more relevant to its customers and showcasing how it relates to consumers’ everyday lives. To demonstrate its proximity to customers, it partnered with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to celebrate Singaporean cuisine and created a set of videos covering an event featuring several local cooks competing with Ramsay. The company also partnered with local comedian Hossan Leong and Twitter to get consumers talking about its new 4G/LTE services, producing short, improvised comedy sketches which then were posted on YouTube.

For B2B companies content takes the form of white papers or videos that are more research-focused, or that are aimed at educating customers about their services. In B2B interactions, bringing human stories or sharing videos of executives to better explain the corporate perspective can be used to create a sense of proximity and trust with customers.

Keeping your brand at the front of a prospective customer’s mind means making sure that the target audience is regularly entertained, but also informed, especially for businesses dealing with governments or in regulated industries. Video is a common approach – the more viral and memorable, the better – mixed in with white papers and research articles to reinforce created media with serious research linked to a product or a service.

IMAGES ARE THE NEW PRINT ADS

The second question social-media managers face is how to create content. Having a timely response is important, because people “live” through social media, in which images are the new print ads. The competitive edge of those with real-time content is having senior management’s buy-in on something that happens quickly.

Content doesn’t always have to be created in-house, of course. Deciding to outsource content creation requires educating and motivating customers and employees to create content. To meet this new goal, a growing number of companies, such as Intel, train employees who wish to engage on social media for a week and help them curate content to improve consistency and reliability. To motivate customers to create content, brands can opt to create social rewards to help customers build new relationships or to enrich existing relationships with others.

Often, however, executives can look into a company’s own processes to find content that could be used.

Consider Blendtec, a small, U.S.-based producer of blenders. Noticing that the company’s engineers regularly blended blocks of woods to test their blender’s robustness,the marketing team had the idea to produce a series of videos featuring C.E.O. Tom Dickson blending objects as diverse as gold balls, light bulbs, Nike shoes and even a miniature Justin Bieber. This created a durable buzz around thevideos, with the initial videos scoring six million views in the first week.

MAKE DISTRIBUTION A BIG PART OF YOUR BUDGET

While having great content is a key step in the design of a good content strategy, perhaps more important is to ensure that this content will be shared and distributed. This depends both on the resources available and on the use of different viral forces.

To ensure that enough resources are available, some companies – Intel again among them – require at least 60 percent of any campaign’s budget to be dedicated to distribution. To promote the distribution of content, companies have to leverage influencers, such as bloggers or celebrities who can spread the word widely by retweeting or reposting a message. They also must match the environment by, for example, producing content related to romance or dating on or shortly before Valentine’s Day. It’s also important to balance both message’s social utility and its content utility. In other words, increase the reasons why someone might share the message while also giving the viewer reasons to like more, consider or buy the target product or service.

In addition to having humorous or emotional content, a good way to create a viral message is to make sure that the message will have practical value – for instance, by educating customers about the brand or giving them a new tip useful in their everyday lives. For instance, a no-frills video describing a simple way to shuck corn achieved eight million views.

In an ever-changing social-media environment, content strategies are here to stay. Overall best practices entail thinking about both content creation and content dissemination. Only companies that allocate resources to both of these tasks will make their foray into the social-media jungle a successful one.

(David Dubois is an assistant professor of marketing at the international business school Insead.)

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