Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Michael Brito, Senior Vice President for Social Business Planning at Edelman Digital.

We all know that the social customer is not only gaining influence but also inundated with content. The following diagram illustrates an example of two customer journeys and the way each interacts with different forms of media (content). This presents two challenges; one for consumers and one for brands. Consumers who live in the “stream”; that is, Twitter, the Facebook news feed, FriendFeed, Google Reader for example are inundated daily with thousands upon thousands of marketing messages. As a result, they are filtering out the content that is not relevant to them. Everything else is noise and usually ignored.

From a brand perspective, the challenge is equally as clear.  If they want their messages to be heard, understood and believed they have to fight for the attention of the social customer. And, they have to do this one of two ways.  First, they have to be omnipresent on the social web and leverage multiple customer touch points with the same message. Omnipresent simply means that brands need to use paid media (display ads, search, out of home, broadcast), earned media (influencer and advocate outreach programs, events) and owned media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs) to reach consumers with the same and or similar messages. Secondly, their messages have to be relevant. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that individuals need to hear/read/see things three to five times before they actually believe it. So, every form of content has to be consistent in order break through the clutter in a relevant and authentic manner.

Here are 3 quick reasons why relevant content matters.

1. Relevant content adds value to the conversation

Many companies today are not sure where to start. One way to determine if and where the conversation is happening about the brand is to conduct a conversation audit. A conversation audit uses social listening software platforms such as Radian6, Meltwater Buzz or Sysomos to data mine the internet for “brand” or “product” related conversations. The data from an audit will give an organization insight into the following:

  • where the conversation is happening (Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs)
  • nature of the conversation (sentiment, product, brand or both)
  • share of voice in comparison to competitors or the general market category
  • influencer identification; their total reach, community size and where they spend most of their time online
  • competitive audit i.e. competitors community size, growth rate, web traffic

The results of a conversation audit will help organizations to determine if they can actually add value to the conversation going on around them. If the conversation is happening on Twitter and the sentiment revolves around complaints about the product; companies should be prepared to jump into the conversation on Twitter and start solving customer problems. If they aren’t prepared to do this for any reason, they need to think long and hard about how they plan on engaging on the social web.  By merely saying “thank you” or just following disgruntled customers’ Twitter accounts is not adding value to the conversation and will most likely add more fuel to the fire.

That said, if the conversation is positive resulting in several users praising the product; companies can say “thank you”, retweet content, follow them and decide later how to engage them in a way that does add value i.e. creating formal advocacy programs, adding them to specific Twitter lists, or inviting them to be a part of another community.

For those who are asking general questions about a product or brand (i.e. does anyone know where I can download the latest driver), a great way to add value to the conversation is to simply respond with a link to the page where they can actually download the driver. Sometimes it’s the little things that not only adds value but can potentially create customer advocacy and position the company as a trusted advisor.

2.     Relevant content positions the brand as a trusted advisor

In the past, some companies relied solely on press releases to launch products. Others have leaked product information to tech influencer blogs in order to leverage their reach, influence and community size and create buzz. The problem with these two methods is that they result in a onetime communication opportunity. After all the hype and buzz dies down, there is no way for a company to communicate with the social customer again; until of course the next release hits the wires or the next blog post goes live; assuming the 3rd party tech blog is willing to post it.

As organizations today are getting smarter, adopting governance models, empowering their employees to blog and tweet; they are now relying on their owned media channels to share and release information. An owned media channel is a company owned community where they have more control the messaging i.e. corporate blog, Facebook fan page and corporate Twitter account. The result of this approach is that allows a company to communicate directly with the community rather than through a third party. And, it makes sense that most consumers interested in a product or brand will want firsthand knowledge about a release date, future enhancements about a product or service and other corporate communications.

As long as the messaging on a company’s owned media channels is relevant, not inundated with sales propaganda, and delivers valuable information, they will essentially position themselves as a trusted advisor of content related to their own products and/or industry related information. The key is to be authentic and trustworthy; with the end goal of being believable.

3.     Relevant content is authentic but more importantly, believable

One could question the authenticity of any politician; but during the 2008 Presidential Election, Barack Obama did something that business can learn from.  He was not only authentic in the way he communicated, but the core of his message was believable.  During his entire campaign, his message of “Change we can believe in”occupied every piece of media, conversation and bumper sticker from California to New York. This can be attributed to a variety of things. First,

Obama was consistent with his messaging and hammered the “change” point in every television appearance, speech and interview.  Also, the content of the message itself was also very relevant for that time period in history. Lastly, his supporters (i.e. advocates) were sharing the same message with their very own micro communities over and over again; in every channel and community that they were a part of.

The lesson for business is that being authentic is an expectation that consumers already have today; and they are holding business accountable to live up to those expectations.  From a business perspective, their content and messaging has to go beyond authenticity. It has to be believable. A company can truly be authentic with all their communication strategies but if they aren’t relevant and adding value, the community will not fully believe the message.  The end result is a huge disconnect and irrelevant messages that will be ignored.

Building and fostering a healthy community; establishing trust and becoming believable takes time before seeing any positive results. Obama’s message wasn’t believed over night. It took more than a year before voters, especially those who were unsure, to learn to trust his vision for the country and believe in him.

Michael Brito is currently a Senior Vice President, Social Business Planning at Edelman Digital.  He writes frequently in his social media blog and just finished writing his first social business book, Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization which will be released in July 2011. 100% of all book royalties are being donated to Not For Sale; a global non-profit organization fighting to abolish human sex trafficking. 

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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