By adaptive - December 18th, 2013

Content is more than words and messaging, it is a craft that needs careful control in order to succeed

As social media has developed and evolved and brand owners learn how users connect with these networks, one thing has become abundantly clear: content is still king.

To connect with the customer the content of communications must be relevant, consistent, creative and correct. Understanding what content your audience is looking for – and more importantly what they are likely to share – is now a core driver behind the most successful uses of social media to date. Corporations that invest in the content they are creating, whether this is developed in-house, or is user-generated materials will continue to be the brands that consumers will follow and covet.

“Understanding your audience should be at the core of your content strategy, and learning about your customers should be an ongoing process,” says Karen Webber, Head of Marketing at Axonn Media. “As content marketing becomes increasingly mainstream, competition for the audience’s attention is tougher than ever. This means that your content really needs to connect with them on a deeper level if it is going to be shared.”

It may seem obvious, but content is what brings the customer to your social channels. It is what keeps them there, delving deeper into your brand and becoming more invested in your offering. It can also be what alienates them and has the potential to cost your brand in both reputation and finances. There were some spectacular content failures in 2013.

The social media campaign from Belvedere Vodka ran across both Facebook and Twitter in March 2013 was an epic failure as it looked a lot like they were promoting sexual abuse. In spite of numerous apologies and rapid responses, the brand was not quickly forgiven and it may take years for them to recover.

What Belvedere learned was a vital lesson in knowing your market, being aware of the trends and understanding customer preferences. There are very few consumers that cite sexual abuse as a preference when drinking vodka!

Henry Copeland, the organiser of the SUXORZ Awards in New York, said to TechNewsDaily, “There but for the grace of God I go, was what most of us were feeling. At the time it seems like a good idea, but then you put it out there, the public plays with it, and it turns into something entirely different.”

He was referring, of course, to a litany of social media failures that were talked about during the awards and showed how easily an idea, believed to have been well-conceived and planned, can shift completely once out in the public domain.

Climbing inside

One way of establishing an understanding of your consumer, according to Danny Groner, Manager of Blogger Partnerships and Outreach at Shutterstock is to use data. This is essential for driving the business as a whole and adjusting product or service solutions to meet demand, and this same principle needs to be applied to the creation of brand content.

“There is no reason that data-driven takeaways shouldn’t also be true for how you approach content on your blog and what you share on social media,” says Groner. “Over time you will learn what your audience prefers and what is most ‘sticky’. Then you can adapt your strategy and cadence to meet their wishes.”

Webber agrees: “We put our buyer personas at the centre of our content strategy so every step of the way, from planning messages and choosing formats, to creating content and engaging on social platforms, we constantly ask ourselves how our personas would respond to it. Will this video excite Gareth? Will Charlotte take five minutes out of her busy day to read this blog post?”

Your organisation must present a clear content strategy right from the outset. Goals, measurement tools and brand identity have to be set and adhered to, that way analytics can help to fine tune communications and learn more about how the consumer ticks. It’s also a good thing to stay aware of trends and how they can be used to drive great content.

Mike Van Der Heijden, SEO Director at leading enterprise search agency Atomic Search cites three ways in which the business can identify trends and use them to attract the customer through content:

  1. Dig through your Google Analytics for keywords including: How, What, Why and When.
  2. Dig through the Google Keyword Planner, Wordtracker and Ubersuggest and include the above terms and keywords related to your business.
  3. Plug these keywords into Google Trends to see what the demand is over time

“If you are trying to create a community around your brand, it is key to ask your audience what they want to hear, see and read,” says Van der Heijden, “We can all make guesses based on keywords and trends, but feedback is straight from the horse’s mouth so make sure you gain feedback from your followers.”

However, there have been several instances of organisations using a trending hashtag to promote their products only to be shredded by media and public alike for being hugely inappropriate. Tesco released their now famous tweet (see below) just as the horsemeat scandal kicked into high gear. It goes to show – have an eye on your content at all times and make sure you know the trends before you hit send.

Tesco Horsemeat

The reader and consumer can potentially be the brand’s greatest asset and ambassador. Content that speaks to them and what they are interested in doing or learning about is more likely to have them spreading the word about your business to the right people and with a positive spin.

A final look

How can your business, knowing how easy it is to create content that fails the brand, deliver an engaging platform to the consumer? How can you meet their expectations?

“This is a tricky question. Although we want social media to support our business we don’t see it as a primary sales tool,” says Lisa Renneisen at Bright Learning. “Success to us is growth and to adapt to the ever changing platforms. There is no formula that guarantees success or everyone would be doing it, you need to keep experimenting until you find what works for you. Simple as that.”

In South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) used an app to engage with prospective students as it worked with their preferred mode of communication and information gathering. The cost of contacting universities to get information was proving to be an issue for students so the agency, Boomtown, worked with the NMMU to develop a solution that gave the spoke directly to their target market using the right platform and language.

“We have had great results from the app and have reduced printing costs of marketing collateral as well as reduced call volumes, saving students time and money,” says Pieter Swart, Director, Marketing and Corporate Relations at NMMU. “It allows us to connect to our students in a way that they are familiar with.”

Ultimately all corporations need to create content that identifies an issue or trend, understands what the customer needs and meets their expectations perfectly.

In the second part of this series we will be examining how to create content that customers want to talk about and how to think outside the proverbial box.

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