Reinventing the wheel. As cliché as the expression has become, it often feels like we’re tasked as marketers to do just that. Whether it relates to a burgeoning content strategy or social media marketing campaign, the quest for a new, bold approach can often take up as much time as the original marketing initiative.
If you stop and really think about it, though, in the 5,500 years since the wheel was created, has it ever been truly reinvented? Sure, we’ve improved efficiency, thrown in a little vulcanized rubber here and some suspension systems there. But these changes are more optimizations than fundamental alterations. The wheel today serves the same function as it did for the Sumerians who invented it: it’s a moving circle that helps humans transport things in a way they would otherwise not be able to.
Image attribution: Soroush Karimi
Originality is not the only key to success. Doing something first or thinking of an idea that no one else has ever had is of course something to strive for, but it’s also not realistic. There’s a reason that Facebook is a cultural touchstone and MySpace is a perennial punch line. In the eye of the consumer, it doesn’t matter who did it first, just who does it best.
You don’t always need some “outside the box” content program or ingenious social media marketing ploy to do your job well. Once you let yourself acknowledge that most good ideas aren’t original, you’ll be free to start planning how to execute that idea better than everyone else.
This is especially true in content strategy. There are only so many angles and topic ideas to go around, so rather than painstakingly trying to find that shiny, new take, you should spend your time figuring out how to guarantee your content is more insightful, more in-depth, and more in-tune with what your audience needs.
I’ve always been intrigued by systems. Whether in a complex organism or in a simple lever-and-pulley machine, if one component of the system changes, it impacts everything else. The effects can be positive or negative. When you lift weights or go for a run, you aren’t just strengthening your muscular system. You are, by extension, improving your lung capacity, blood flow, and brain function, even if you’re just trying to look better on the beach.
Viewing your company as a system is a fascinating exercise in perspective. Sure, sales can do their thing independently and the social media team can operate without the input of content marketing. But as we talked about in Part I, if these disparate parts can work together as one entity, the efficiency and productivity of the system will be greatly improved
In Part III and IV we’ll talk more about the critical roles of sales and IT, but if your aim is to include your whole organization in your content strategy, it should start with the eyes, ears, and mouth of your company, i.e., your social media team.
Every sustainable content strategy has four major components that are interconnected and must function in concert:
The system above works best when its main elements are working together, and social media can be the key cog that keeps it seamlessly in motion. If you aren’t working with this team throughout the process, you’re basically trying to drive a car while looking through a periscope. Sure, you can probably make it from point A to point B without crashing, but wouldn’t it be that much easier if you could see the whole road?
As you work to understand your core audience, a prevalent choice is to establish a persona to use as the token for this group. I am of two minds when it comes to these personas. They are of course important to establish early on as a guide for your developing content. But sharing the same job and being in similar industries are no guarantee that people have had the same experiences. The threads that tie the stories of their lives together could be very different.
I’ve worked for a company where the CEO was a brilliant, daring, and disruptive 60-year-old woman, and I’ve also worked for an organization whose leader was a wise, logical, and cautious 45-year-old man. If I blindly followed my personas, I would never peg the older woman as the disruptor and the younger man as the king of the status quo. But I also understand that we can’t market to individuals. So how do we create personas as close as possible to their human counterparts?
The answer is social media listening.
According to Forbes, less than one-quarter of companies rely on social listening to inform their decisions. Think about that for a second. A brand that’s trying to stand out should be eager to get the input of the department with its ears firmly fixed to the ground. Social media can help you continuously gather intelligence about the desires and needs of your audience, and it can help you learn what makes your organization tick. You can then use this information to adjust your offerings and constantly stay current with trends. Brands that aren’t doing this on a regular basis are going to have to settle for being just like everybody else.
Your social media team can be your secret weapon! You just have to do the legwork to make sure they know their value and how they can work with you to back your play.
Image attribution: Angela Franklin
A system functions effectively because every part performs its role. If you’re going to include your entire organization in your content strategy system, education has to be the highest priority. Your social media team wants your content, but they also don’t want to feel like they’re being told how to do their job.
Virgin reports that 85% of surveyed professionals say face-to-face meetings “build stronger, more meaningful business relationships.” So the smiley face emoji at the end of that email filled with requests is not going to do what you need it do. You want partners, not subordinates.
Luckily, the solution is simple here. Go say hi. Lend a real face to that name in their inbox. Put time on their calendars for meetings with your team. Take the time necessary to explain all the parts of your plan. Impress upon them the importance of their role, and share the innumerable benefits to the company. Most importantly, don’t disappear. Keep them in the loop, and involve them in strategic decision-making. This is how strong teams are built. Otherwise, they’ll be back to feeling like a hired gun in no time.
It seems simple enough. You have content. Social has the means and desire to promote that content for your brand. Yet time and time again, content programs lose out on some much-needed exposure by skipping this vital collaborative step. This disconnect seems to stem from the misconception that social media is a one-dimensional tool. You should embrace social media and appreciate the Swiss army knife of possibilities it offers to story enhancement.
Do you want to remind your audience about tax season? Why spend money on net new content when your social team can retweet the evergreen post about preparing for tax season that you created last year? Are you not sure whether your audience really cares about a social issue? Ask your social media peeps to do some new-fashioned social detective work to see if it’s trending in your target industry. Are you not getting the traction you expected from some important company research? Social can blast it out again and again on your channels to keep the buzz building.
These all seem obvious when viewed as separate pieces of your marketing efforts, but they aren’t separate. Collectively, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole when it comes to your developing content marketing system. It doesn’t have to always be one hand washing the other to get things done. With a little work, it can instead be two hands working together to accomplish a common goal.
The lynchpin to more cogent, resonant content is not some industry-defining, lightning-in-a-bottle concept. Sometimes, it’s as simple as doing all the little things better than everyone else, and then making sure you recruit a team of partners who are ready, able, and more than willing to have your back.
Do you want to learn more about how to get the most out of the creative thinking and know-how of other departments across your organization? Then don’t forget to check out Part I, where I look at why it’s so critical to get your whole organization on board with your content program; Part III, where I dive into the critical role of your sales department; and Part IV, where I look into the importance of working with the digital team. Stay tuned for Part V, where I will discuss the best ways to get ongoing support by proving content marketing ROI.
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