Facebook managers must have mentioned “content” a dozen times at its marketing conference Feb. 29 in New York City. While everyone else was focused on the new bells and whistles, I was tuning my ears to their focus on content.
The message was clear: marketers must now become real “storytellers” and ignite their fans with engaging content. Facebook promotions (“sponsored stories”) will revolve around strong, compelling content. Your Facebook Page will increasingly be measured by how much fans engage with and share your content. Content, content, content.
We’ve heard this mantra for so long it’s easy to write it off as just another turn of the marketing screw. But this time I think Facebook is on to something. Indeed I believe we’re witnessing a wide-sweeping, fundamental shift in the way we communicate to customers-and ultimately, do business. And it starts and ends with content.
First, think of content as how we engage with our customers, like real people. The “content” is the fodder for the engagement, the oil that greases the wheels of communications. Today’s model is more like a cocktail party than the old corporate model of push marketing content (White papers, advertising, corporate case studies and so on). There’s still a place for those, but they must take hold now in the context of social interactions. (See this awesome infographic for an excellent primer on content marketing.)
In other words, companies need to think more like their customers. The problem, as I’ve said before, is companies aren’t people, even though they’re made up of people. Social isn’t in the corporation’s DNA. So marketers fall back on what they know, like offering coupons on Facebook. Studies have shown this is what their customers desire of brands, so why not?
The problem is the resulting short term buzz is a quick-fix drug. For a longer term strategy, companies need to think, act and operate like modern day publishers and create customer-centric content. This in turn will ignite customer conversations, build their brands and ultimately drive leads and sales.
This is a major leap for most companies.
First they need to revamp their social media marketing efforts to unleash the employees, the real corporate voices. This is a huge endeavor that will require senior-level and cross-organizational support, but it’s essential. The employees must be free, within limits, to talk naturally in their own voices, not in corporate speak, to their audiences.
Companies also need to be more creative. Think about creating new types of platforms for customer-centric content. Look at the Huffington Post as one model-full of engaging stories, a combination of stock news stories and multiple voices and opinion pieces. Several companies are experimenting in this area- American Express’ Open Forum and Intel’s Free Press are good examples.
The key is creating engaging, customer focused content. Editorial systems must be put in place, and every piece of content should meet strict guidelines:
- Is it focused on your audience needs? What really do your customers care about (not what you want to say). I’m helping my wife launch a new gluten free website and blog ( part of a new Asian gluten free food business). While our main audience has some interest in gluten free news and trends, what they really care about is finding wholesome, tasty gluten free food-so at least 70 percent of our content will be about recipes and food subjects (where to find good gluten free food in your town). We’ll also go where our audiences are already connecting, like Pinterest boards.
- Is it engaging? What would make your viewers read it and share it with their friends? That means it needs to be educational, informative, humorous or strike a personal or professional chord. Focus on creating stories that can catch fire with your audience. Think like a storyteller.
- Is it shareable? Look at how easy Pinterest makes it for even nontechies to share their posts. No wonder it’s exploding in popularity-and, for now at least, it’s not hugely social.
Back to Facebook. Its marketers are nudging companies to develop ads that look and feel like real editorial content, sort of-interesting company stories, engaging pieces, etc. They’re blurring the distinction between advertising and editorial (“The content is the ad.”) Its marketers envision a new world of online interaction where people converse as naturally with the brands as they do with each other.
I’m not sure we’ll ever get there completely, but we may not need to. Companies are already sitting on a goldmine of untapped and powerful content. They have vast amount of information and subject matter experts that can be of enormous interest and value to consumers. Bloggers are our modern day storytellers. They just need to quit thinking like marketers and more like the people they serve.
So the message from last week was another reminder: companies will now live or die by their content. Maybe Facebook is the canary in the coal mine. Ignore it at your own risk.