The power of online marketing on a social web has only scratched the surface of its full potential.
This year smart marketers will stop using content as a bullhorn and start using it as a platform for building engaged communities. Customers will no longer be seen simply as a source of revenue, but instead as a near endless stream of research, innovation, and sales.
This transition will mean targeted communities that are smaller and more social than the mass media audiences of the past will succeed like never before. Therefore, content will have to be focused, refined, interactive, shareable, and (most importantly) involve the audience in the creation process.
To get you ready for these important changes, here are five top tips for content marketing success:
#1. Bring the Customers Inside
Customers want businesses to solve their problems and are willing participants in that value creation process… if given the chance. Unfortunately, much of what we call “social” media marketing has hardly lived up to its name.
The key will be to move beyond the mass marketing mentality of “us vs. them.”
By empowering your customers to become part of your business processes you’ll get a great low-cost source of research & innovation.
There’s also no greater sales force in the world than a satisfied customer. And while this was once an added bonus for marketers, it’s quickly becoming a necessity. Customers increasingly vet their purchasing decisions through social networks before even considering a company’s traditional marketing.
Some things to try:
- Ask for customer input on new projects you’re working on.
- Allow customers to tell their own stories through co-created content (see below).
- Create incentives (social and financial) for customers to become evangelists of your business.
- Make sure to show that you are actually using the feedback you receive.
#2. Focus, Focus, Focus
In the mass marketing era, half of the advertising was wasted but we just don’t know which half.
The Internet has created an ultra-segmented marketplace, which allows smart marketers to create specialized content that solves specific problems.
To be successful, your content has to be focused on a well-defined niche audience. Take the time to map out exactly who you are targeting by developing a detailed profile of your audience, including demographics, psychographics, and a thorough understanding of how they negotiate their social space.
#3. Get Organized
Most people classify content by format (blog, video, Tweet, etc.), often leading to repetitiveness and a sense by your audience that you’re shouting at them (rather than talking with them).
Why don’t you try a different framework, one that will give you a much clearer look at the role each piece of content plays in driving interaction within your community.
When you are planning out your editorial calendar, separate content into one of three categories, defined by how that piece of content was created:
- Original content – This is material created directly by you. It should address a specific customer need – be that information, instruction, humor, motivation, etc. Use it as a way to highlight your expertise, make yourself useful, and build trust with your audience.
- Co-created content – Created together with others. In particular, you should target influencers within the niche who can help build your authority. Examples of this are guest posts like this one, a webinar highlighting the successes of your top customers, or a podcast with someone who has expertise that complements your own.
- Curated content – Created by others but useful in some way to your audience. This includes stuff like retweets or emailing your list with a useful report that was created by another organization.
Reframing your thinking in this way will force you to always keep in mind the business purpose behind everything you create and share.
#4. Get Emotional
In his awesome book Contagious, Wharton professor Jonah Berger showed us that one of the key reasons people share content online is because it arouses a person’s emotion.
Content has to go beyond just being useful; it has to be unforgettable. Rather than trying to churn out quantity, take the time to figure out what kind of emotions move your audience.
In doing so, it’s important to remember that not all emotion is created equal. In his research, Berger identifies that certain kinds of emotions – those that get people “aroused” like awe, passion, and anger – are much more likely to drive shares than those that make people feel toned down – like sadness, relaxation, or contentment.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to rock the boat a bit, because what gets one person excited might turn another one away. As long as you are exciting the right people (and treating everyone well in the process), it’s ok to let some people go.
#5. Respect the Numbers but Don’t be a Machine
There are so many tools out there that allow you to use data to paint a picture of your social landscape. So many in fact that it can turn into a hindrance if you’re not careful.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely crucial to analyze and optimize, but all the data in the world won’t do you a bit of good if you don’t understand people.
And one of the most important things to understand about people is that they change. Often. Data can be an important tool for measuring these changes – it can help you test assumptions and sometimes provide a needed reality check. But it’s no replacement for digging in and becoming part of your customer community.
So, make the effort to really get to know your customers. Instead of just mass emailings and webinars, take time to have individual conversations. Understand what people are struggling with and you’ll have a near endless stream of ideas for new content to create.
The Big Picture
The world of marketing is changing, and I would argue it’s for the better. By harnessing the power of community, businesses are ending the awful competition between buyer and seller, replacing it with a much healthier process of mutual value creation.
In 2014 the kind of guesswork that has long been the way marketers figure out what their audience wants will be replaced by actually getting to know the customers themselves. By talking with them instead of at them, we can start to create a new way of doing business, one that helps bring people together to solve the problems of our day.
You now have the framework to get started. Use it to go out and build yourself a dynamic, engaged, and profitable community in 2014.
Guest author: Jake Parent has been building communities for more than a decade. His site Learn To Be Heard teaches marketers and entrepreneurs how to use blogging and other social media to transform an audience of static listeners into a dynamic group of engaged participants.