The vast majority of businesses will first experiment with social media long before they get underway with content marketing. Creating a coherent plan is the key to success in both. A content plan helps to integrate content and social media marketing activities. I will be explaining the approach I recommend in more detail in the next Smart Insights webcast. This post gives some of the background.
Which way first?
Companies tend to work first with social media marketing because social platforms are free, ubiquitous and easy to use, link directly to users, and only require short, easy and quick-to-publish content. At zero cost of entry the platforms and resources required are inexpensive since any junior level employee can set up a social media account and post to the update box.
The challenge with content marketing, however, is the ability to publish longer-form, authoritative content that builds your organisation's position online as a thought leader with content that attracts and retains audiences on your own website or blog.
What you do depends on where you host the party
In social media marketing the place where communities connect belongs to someone else: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter each belong to large organisations, and for that reason the marketing activity takes place within the social networks themselves.
In contrast, content marketing takes place on the brand’s own content hub. A good example is Amex’s Open Forum, which provides helpful advice for small business owners.
Amongst the reader responses to Toby Murdock’s post on CMI, was one that suggested “content marketing is like organising a party in your own house”. In other words content marketing is done on your own turf where you can party for as long as you like, and choose the music you like and the drinks you want. In contrast social media marketing is like organising a party in the local village hall. If the owner decides it’s alcohol free, what can you do? If the owner shuts the pub you have nowhere to go? This was an insightful analogy which helped clarify the boundaries.
One advantage to hosting the party at home is that you get to know your audience better and faster, what they want and what they need, and your focus is on satisfying those wants and needs with quality, strategically aligned content marketing, from which other decisions flow more easily, naturally and organically, into, for instance, choosing the best social media channels for distribution.
What's your marketing goal?
Social media marketing and content marketing can be used for a multitude of purposes, but social media marketing generally tends to focus on two main marketing objectives. First, it’s used for building brand awareness, generating activity and discussion around your brand. And secondly, social media marketing often takes place on open forums where customers like to air their views, frustrations and grievances about brands they use. Here the focus of the marketing activity is on improving customer satisfaction and retention.
In contrast, content marketing’s website-based focus allows the marketing activity to concentrate on fulfilling the needs of customers at each stage of their buying journey, from awareness through to conversion, and is, therefore, focused on demand generation.
Your digital marketing maturity level
I mentioned at the outset of this post that many company’s come to digital marketing through the social media door. That’s because the barriers to entry into social networks are low and anyone can start a Facebook page or Twitter account. Conversely, content marketing is underpinned by a rigorous editorial discipline and step-by-step process that needs to be learned and adhered to.
When brands struggle with social media marketing it’s not usually because they struggle with the social media platforms, but because they have insufficient “big logs” to put on their social media fires.
For more practical suggestions for integrating content marketing readers can find practical advice in the section entitled “Content types (formats) to fuel content campfires” in the Smart Insights Guide to content marketing.
Convergence of social networking and content marketing
Social networks are vital to content marketing success, but all too often companies are distracted by the bling of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc), forgetting that great content is needed to fuel digital marketing success, and that social networks are just the vehicles for engaging and distributing links to longer form content on a company’s branded content hub, not the containers for the content itself.
The ability to establish a definition of what is performed with content marketing relative to social media marketing is critical to content marketing success, and despite the overlaps between the two disciplines, content marketing and social media marketing are distinct practices with different focal points, harvesting grounds, marketing goals, processes and skills sets.
I’ll be exploring how to manage content marketing and social networking in a forthcoming Smart Insights Webinar on 14 June entitled 6 Steps To Creating A Content Marketing Plan, for which you can register for free. I hope to see you there!
By Stephen Bateman
Stephen is the founder of Concentric Dots Ltd, a specialist content marketing agency helping small businesses in Exeter, Bristol and Plymouth get more customers by increasing their understanding of how real buyers really buy, and then giving them a solid framework to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and be more attractive than their competitors. His strengths are in customer profiling, buyer lifecycle mapping, content planning, content creation, and helping managers to be more productive with their social media and blogging, using tools and techniques that save them time and effort to achieve stand out marketing in a busy marketplace with limited resources.
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