Storytelling Innovator Series

IBM’s Michelle Killebrew Discusses the Growth of Social Content Strategy

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Social media and content marketing go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, creating a content strategy that takes advantage of social media’s growing power isn’t that easy.

In this week’s Innovator Series interview, I speak with Michelle Killebrew, program director of strategy and solutions for IBM’s Social Business arm. Killebrew has spent the last five years at IBM working to improve demand generation and social content marketing strategy on a global scale. Today, Killebrew answers my questions about her approach to social content marketing—as well as how IBM encourages employees to think differently.

Question: What are three ways you know your social content strategy isn’t working, and how can you course correct to see improved results?

1. Listen: The most basic evidence of engagement is a bidirectional conversation with your audience. If they are not conversing with you as a brand, then you are not engaging them in a discussion—you are talking at them through various channels. Be sure to have a community manager overseeing each of the channels that you are interacting in, and arm them with both the tools and policy to effectively respond to your audience. It’s important to understand how your audience wants to be engaged; not everyone uses the same platform to engage brands. And don’t forget to empower your employees beyond those community managers. Your employees can be your best brand advocates, and we all know it takes a village. Encourage all employees to take an active role in social engagement and content creation.

Analyzing stock market from computer screen.2. Analyze: Look at engagement metrics to see what is resonating. There are many tools and key performance indicators (KPIs) to investigate here; start small and expand to delve into deeper insights. Look at social interaction metrics to see which conversations are resonating, who’s in the conversation, and to determine your share of voice around a topic. Look at site metrics for engagement with the content that you’re driving to. Things like site visits, returning visitors, conversion metrics, sharing metrics can all start to inform how you optimize your content strategy.

3. Think and Learn: Hopefully most of us realize that just because we’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean we should persist. Things are changing so quickly that we need to think about why we’re creating content; in the B2B space we’ve traditionally created white papers, but what are we trying to achieve? We’re trying to inform a buyer about something, so we should consider if we can achieve the same goal more effectively with a video, an eBook, or an infographic. Remember that your audience is going to have different content preferences based on things like where they are in the buyer journey, device, learning style, and personal taste. We need to learn from each other. Read trade publications. Be observant of good marketing in action in both B2B and B2C spaces, think about what made it compelling, and apply those concepts to your initiatives. Understand how other marketers are applying strategies around marketing, social, and publication platforms.

Q: How can you improve user experience to surprise and delight your audience?

Understand Your Audience: Think through your audience’s likes and dislikes and create personas and profiles around them. Do you know their major turnoffs and turn ons? Before you even begin designing an experience, make sure you have a baseline understanding of who they are. Blanket campaigns are no longer effective today because we are trying to reach a “market of one.” You need to personalize the experience to their preferences. You should look to your analytics to fine-tune your understanding over time.

Provide Value: Make sure your experience provides the individual with value. You need to truly think of the person you are creating for: What is going to serve their needs? Can you answer a question or entertain them? Can you offer them content to save them time in a way your competitors can’t? People are busy; provide them value—they’ll appreciate it!

businessman hand working with new modern computer and business strategy as conceptBe Beautiful: Literally. Your user experience needs to offer visual appeal and intuitive functionality. In order to compete for attention, your visual creative needs to be distinct and engaging. It needs to capture the eye and pull it in. The design of the user experience needs to be intentional, providing clear calls to action or value propositions for the individual.

Foster Engagement: If your content is good, people will want to share it with friends, peers, other brand loyalists, and, ultimately, the world. When you think about your user experience, part of that planning should be around planned sharability. Make it easy for your audience to share content, engage with others, co-create, and further the conversation, and make sure that you’re part of that conversation, listening to ideas, frustrations, and new opportunities.

Iterate and Optimize: Instrument your digital experiences, look at the metrics, and, more importantly still, take action on the insight! Look at what your audience is gravitating toward and create more of it. Be intentional in your pursuit to understand whether is it theme or format. For instance, is it a high-value microsegment of your audience that you should customize a new experience for? Never stop iterating.

Q: Can you offer some examples of successful IBM content marketing campaigns?

The Rethink Campaign: A demand generation campaign that was created based on the learnings of several years of campaign optimization (from Coremetrics, acquired by IBM in 2010). Thinking through the 11 new audience profiles in eight recently acquired companies we needed to speak to, the value proposition for each, and the type, quality, and quantity of content was the challenge here; its success was based on driving marketing qualified leads (MQL). Ultimately, MQL and sales qualified leads (SQL) were the success metrics here, but along the way we optimized based on conversion and interaction data.

The Economist Social Business Leaders: An IBM-sponsored awareness campaign that co-branded with The Economist and celebrated the achievements of social business leaders in a variety of accomplishments, including internal collaboration, sophisticated customer engagement, philanthropic endeavors, and more. The success of this campaign is based on visibility and awareness: social impressions, site visitor data, and influencer engagement.

Social Biz Leaders

Q: What advice do you have for marketers big and small when it comes to social content strategy?

I was asked at a conference recently if a midsize business should split its social channels as it ventured into a new direct-to-consumer model, adding to its bulk manufacturer-to-installer sales model. The product was the same, but the value proposition to each audience was drastically different. In this case, it was fashion versus function. My advice: Split the channels so that you can effectively engage with the audience’s unique perspective (if you can support the channels effectively). We all know that you can’t create a social engagement channel and then not monitor it for interaction, questions, trolls, or worse. If you don’t have the resources to split the channels to ensure that they are unique, develop a content marketing strategy that engages with each audience based on their specific value propositions, especially around key events. As your resources grow, prioritize the most effective channels to support (in a measured way) those audiences.

Q: Are there any in-house mantras for how IBM approaches this discipline?

One of the (many) wonderful things about IBM is that we truly believe our employees are the best representation of our brand; in fact, it has been said that IBM employees are our brand. To this end, we were one of the first companies to create a Social Guideline for employees to engage and advocate on the company’s behalf. These guidelines were created in 2005 (before Twitter, and only a year after Facebook was founded) by crowdsourcing across the hundreds of thousands of employees through our internal wiki. The intention was to unleash the smart and wonderful people of IBM to engage with users, buyers, inventors, thought leaders, students, and the world.

At IBM, our in-house mantra is “You are our brand: Go out and represent our brand!”

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