If You Don’t Have Good Content, You’ll Fail on Social

The other day I was on a panel with a couple other content marketing types when, as is custom at these things, someone asked us how content fits within social media marketing. And (likely because I’d had too much caffeine), I blurted out, “I think content eats social!” which a) didn’t really answer the question very well; b) didn’t make a ton of sense; and c) earned me a dirty look or two from the other panelists (one of whom was from a social media management platform).

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense: though content marketing is the new kid on the block, it won’t be long before it eclipses social as marketers’ tool of choice.

Allow me to elaborate a little bit.

Here’s something that no one has said, ever: I don’t know about you, but I enjoy going on social media to enjoy the witty personalities and pithy observations of my favorite brands!

Brands’ forays into social are more likely to wind up as a punchline than they are to encourage customer loyalty. (I should note that social is, and will remain, incredibly valuable as a customer service tool—I’m talking specifically about marketing here.)

But social isn’t going away, and brands that ignore its marketing potential do so at their peril. Social, after all, is where their customers are; it’s the best place to reach them with messaging. And that’s where content comes into the equation.

NOTE TO BRANDS #1: You are NOT going to out-meme the Internet.

Content from a brand need not try to be overly clever or topical or “real-time.” And don’t get me started on “snackable” content, which is a phrase that makes me want to shove forks in my eyes. Trying to be more clever and timely and witty than the 4chans and niche Tumblrs of the world is a sucker’s game—especially for brands.

Consumers have billions (literally billions) of places to find that kind of thing. And a brand’s status updates are never going to compete with someone’s friends. But as a source of information and knowledge? Brands are great. They know tons of stuff, much of it super-interesting and valuable, and very little of it easily compressed into a social media update.

NOTE TO BRANDS #2: Your social media manager is NOT a content creator.

So what’s the difference between content marketing and social media marketing? A couple of things.

For one, social is inherently spontaneous, while content tends to be carefully crafted before it’s set loose upon the world. Social tends to be reactive; content, on the other hand, sparks conversation. And finally, content is generally made by an experienced creative professional: a writer, designer, video producer, etc. Social? Not so much. (That’s not to say managing social accounts for a brand doesn’t require experience and talent—it’s just a separate skill set.)

The ultimate goal with both content and social is to create connections with potential customers. Social does it by trying to be your friend; content is more like a trusted advisor. Which role do you think makes the most sense for a brand? Would you rather chill with Goldman Sachs or get financial advice from the brightest financial minds at the company?

NOTE TO BRANDS #3: Content = fire. Social = gasoline.

Or, put more simply, a tweet with a link to something awesome is way better than a tweet with nothing in it at all. (“Retweet if you love Fridays!”)

Say you’ve written an interesting story on your brand blog or microsite that you think would be entertaining and informative to your potential customers, and maybe even make them more likely to buy your product. But no one goes to your brand blog because, well, it’s a brand blog.

Luckily your brand has a Facebook page, and a Twitter handle, and maybe even (but hopefully not) an account on Ello. It’s a simple thing to craft a snackable (there’s that word again) update for each of those platforms that contains a link back to your blogAs Altimeter’s Rebecca Lieb said recently, “Content is the atomic particle that drives all the rest of a brand’s marketing campaigns.”

You could even pay to promote that tweet or Facebook post to an even bigger audience, sending all those people back to a piece of content that demonstrates how your brand has thoughtful and intelligent insight into their universe.

Social is where advertisers need to be if they’re going to find eyeballs. But finding those eyeballs is no good if you’re just going to stick forks in them.

MESSAGE TO BRANDS #4: Content is Social, but Social isn’t Content.

There have been a lot of comparisons made between social media and content marketing, partly because they’ve followed a similar trajectory. Five years ago, social was a shiny new toy, but today it’s a must-have, with a landscape littered with failed startups and battling vendors. Content marketing is a few years behind. We’re still in the shiny new toy stage, but rapidly moving towards must-have status.

The difference, I think, is that content works everywhere, while social only works on social. Or, put another way, content can be social, but social can hardly ever be content—despite what the snack purveyors may say. Social media remains an important tool, but smart marketers will find that investing in social without having good content behind it is a waste of time.

This article originally appeared on Contently.

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