the social media sandwich

Social media marketing is, of course, all the rage with businesses these days. Every time I meet with a prospective client or hang out at a networking event, everyone wants to know how to put Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkedIn or YouTube) to work for their business.

Can you really get business from them?

How do you get started?

Isn’t it just a bunch of people talking about what they had for lunch?

In a funny way, the answer to all those questions is the same – and perhaps unsurprisingly, that answer is content.

If we simplify social media (just a little), it’s about Josephine Public being able to create, connect and share without the middle man of traditional media. More than anything, it’s about conversations.

Conversations Are About Something

And conversations need a topic.

If you’re using social media for personal reasons – meeting new people, keeping in touch with friends – then that topic can be whatever you like. What you had for lunch might be a hugely interesting topic of conversation – but it’s not going to help attract much new business or develop loyal repeat customers.

Yes, personality is important, but brands need more than ‘friends’ – they need ‘fans’ – and real fans love you for what you know and do. So when you’re using social media for business, the about in the conversation should be at some level business related.

So how do you start a conversation about business? You create content worth talking about.

Content is the tasty stuff in the middle of social media conversations. In the same way that co-workers once discussed ‘must see’ TV at the watercooler they now pass around YouTube clips, blogs posts and pictures of cats ‘hazzing cheezeburgers’.

For businesses hoping to make social media a part of their communications strategy, the price of entry is having something interesting to say – the kind of stuff that people want to talk about and share. Informative, useful and even entertaining content forms the basis of these conversations – both between businesses and consumers and between consumers themselves.

It’s certainly possible to build a social media presence talking about your personal lunchtime favorites, but as a business you need great content to refer back to and make your expertise, brand or even your personality tangible and sharable.

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monocle magazine cover

As many of you will know by now, I’m an unrepentant magazine junkie. Monocle is one of my personal favourites due to the quality of its journalism, design-ethic and truly global breadth.

But as someone at the crossroads between media and business (and business as media for that matter), Monocle’s real appeal is in its business model and innovative approach to working with advertisers and sponsors.

A recent article on the PSFK blog, discusses how:

“Monocle is leading the trend where titles help brands by creating content readers really want to consume (rather than the stuff many ad agencies hope will catch our eye)”

I think this describes Monocle’s approach rather nicely. A quick scan of any recent edition shows drinks companies sponsoring cocktail guides and printed travel handbooks (available at key airports), tourism offices collaborating on city profiles and luxury brands sponsoring compelling weekly podcasts.

The collaborative ethos continues online too. At the time of writing 8 of the 9 features fronting the Monocle website are sponsored; and include everything from music events, to downloadable city guides to video reports from the Venice Biennale.

perfume-t2Perhaps the most obvious commercial innovation is Monocle’s extensive range of branded merchandise, created in conjunction with high-end designers and boutique brands. The range covers everything from clothing to scents (produced by Comme de Garcons) and notebooks to luggage. Each piece is both revenue stream and brand extension – and is available via the print magazine, Monocle website and retail shops in London, LA and Mallorca respectively.

Lessons for Media – and Content Marketers [click to continue…]

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British actress Mollie Sugden, most famous for her role in ’70s comedy Are You Being Served, sadly died yesterday.

In typical Twitter fashion (mostly) British fans set up a hashtag – #mrsslocombespussy in reference to the show’s running double entrendre – as a tribute, and it quickly became one of the most popular topics on the site. Even celebs like Jonathan Ross got in on the act.

Unfortunately the joke was lost on Twitter’s filters – and both TechCrunch and Mashable picked up on the fact as evidence of spam invading the trending topics. TechCrunch even suggested that someone may have hacked Twitter and added the cat synonym to an innocent topic.

Personally I think it’s hilarious and both sites quickly updated their posts to reflect the huge list of comments (my own included) setting them straight.

But the whole thing does raise some interesting questions:

Accuracy on the Web (and anywhere else for that matter)

A lot of commenters pointed out that a simple Google search before publishing the post would have revealed that the hashtag was not spam. Both sites are hugely influential so a little more care in researching the topic would certainly be expected.

But should we hold blogs to the same editorial standards that we expect for traditional media sources (which are certainly not immune to the odd gaffe themselves)? You could look at this as an inherent flaw in web journalism but the speed at which it was corrected by the community also demonstrates the web’s ability to self-edit.

My opinion would be that consumers of media are becoming increasingly savvy about the accuracy of online content and will seek out trusted sources – trust gained through accurate reporting and reputation.

Again, if Mashable, TechCrunch or any other source were repeatedly shown to be inaccurate or hasty in their content, their reputation would suffer. If you’re a content creator it’s something worth bearing in mind.

Mea Culpa – What to Do When You Get it Wrong

When you get something wrong it’s important to own up – and fix it quick. Both Mashable and TechCrunch made updates within a few minutes (good) but I would’ve preferred to see an update at the top of the post  simply stating ‘we wuz wrong’ (better).

Lost in Translation

Obviously neither author got the joke. It’s also worth remembering that not everyone reading your content will have the same cultural references or knowledge as you.

Genies and Bottles

No mater how quickly the posts were corrected by commenters, both will have been retweeted, copied and scraped across the web. This may not be true of every blogger but it is worth remembering that there are no ‘take backs’ online.

Where is the Line Between Viral Marketing and ‘Gaming’ Social Media?

So what kinds of topics are OK to appear in Twiter’s trending topics? After updating the post, TechCrunch author Robin Wauters wrote:

Still amazes me how stuff like that gets in the top list of trending topics. It shouldn’t.

But as several commenters pointed asked, why shouldn’t it? Memes and viral themes have always been part of the web, why is this one any less relevant? And this one’s actually real news.

More to the point, companies have begun to make use of hashtags to create ‘viral’ style campaigns on Twitter. Current top of the trending topic charts Moonfruit, is encouraging Twitterers to retweet the hashtag #moonfruit to potentially win a MacBook in a similar campaign to one recently run by Squarespace.

Should commercial efforts like these be viewed as ‘gaming’ the results or simply good social media marketing?

In practical terms, the execution of the idea has been great and has no doubt helped raise awareness of, and traffic to, Moonfruit. Everybody loves free stuff and the whole process has been very transparent – so Moonfruit have gone about it the right way and have received the tacit seal of approval from the Twitter community and commentators as a result.

But what would happen if McDonald’s started doing it with a competition to win free Big Macs – would they be as warmly received?

One concern may be that if too many brands try to do the same – which of course they will – trending topics will be reduced to trending competitions.

My take? Moonfruit has been around for a while and are engaged in social media – and so this campaign is viewed as less a cynical marketing exercise and more a fun exercise and a chance to win free stuff.

In other words, they’re working within the goodwill that they’ve built up in the social media space. If you were to simply show up and start something along these lines – without putting in the effort to build a reputation first – then it would likely be considered spam.

Unfortunately, I think is exactly what a lot of brands will try to do.

What are your thoughts on any of these points?



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content needs weight - scale image

Your Content Has to Have Weight

High School science class was some time ago but if I remember correctly weight is a function of mass (and gravity). Mass, in turn, is a function of both size and density.

Something can be very large but not very dense – like a cloud – and so have very little weight to it. Likewise, something can be very dense but be too small to have much weight – like a pebble.

To get the maximum value from your content online you need both size and density – you need weight.

Density in this sense represents the quality or better yet, the substantiveness of the content you create. It should have real value and deliver benefits to the people who consume it.

If it does, they’ll be more likely to respond to it in ways that help your business; subscribe to your feed or newsletter, request a quote or consultation or simply share your content with others. If it doesn’t, you’ll be more featherweight than heavyweight.

You need density to get found and make it worthwhile being found.

Size on the other hand refers simply to the quantity of material you create. It is possible to create just one great piece of content which will continue to drive traffic and build your reputation for years to come. Possible, but not likely.

Even in very simple terms, creating 10 blog posts that each deliver 20 visitors a week – every week – is much easier than producing a single post that delivers 200 week in and week out. Having a large body of work also creates more ‘in roads’ into your business, allows you to cover more topics and appeal to a wider market. Greater size, in short, means easier to find.

You need size to reap the benefits of content marketing.

Creating Your Own Gravity

gravity

Weight matters. To extend the metaphor a little, if content has enough weight it can even go so far as to create its own gravity – pulling in interest, interactions and a veritable galaxy of satellite contributions feeding off the buzz your content produces.

Techcrunch, Mashable, Problogger – they all have weight. Each one produces content worth reading. Each one produces a lot of fresh content worth reading and has a huge ‘back catalog’. And consequently, each one draws in readers and the content they create spawns dozens of comments and reactionary blog posts. They have weight and gravity.

Weight Matters but …

Of course, there’s not a lot new in this. Quantity and quality have always been part of the marketing equation and are equally true of content marketing – or even the media itself.

But while it might not be new, it is worth remembering – especially if you’re planning your own content marketing efforts. Creating the odd half-hearted blog post a week will do little to grow your reputation online – it must be consistent, high quality and frequent enough to create size worth noticing.

Are you, or your organisation, prepared to produce regular, high-quality editorial? Most business, by nature, simply aren’t set up to do this. Becoming a content marketing heavyweight needs planning, an allocation of resources and a long-term commitment.