How to Become a Social Content Marketer—the Best Way to Build Sustainable Relationships with Customers

Brands are not media companies—they are ill-suited to that role. But they can become great content marketers

As brands become more and more attracted to content marketing and its benefits, they’re going to hear 1,000 consultants whispering in their ear, "Yessss, my precious, you must become a media company."

With so much turmoil in the media universe—from Time Inc. spinning off to Yahoo doing, well, who can say what—it seems odd that the forward-looking prescription for brands would be to move into that space. Very few brands that started their business selling one type of product but evolved into a media company even come to mind. Red Bull is the one major exception—the poster child for those who think all companies should become media outlets. Red Bull captured the attention of a valuable audience, created remarkable content, and then monetized it by selling their consumers’ eyeballs to other brands.

But is Red Bull the end of the rainbow for all brands?

No. Brands are not media companies. Nor are most well suited to it.

But they can become great content marketers.

When most people say “become a media company,” they mean adopt editorial ways, organize and invest around developing content that engages customers and drives them to some type of action. They mean that brands should start valuing content marketing as much as any other discipline (like advertising) and then operationalizing the hell out of it.

The best place for most brands on the content-marketing continuum is what I call the Social Content Marketer (see above diagram). It’s like a new and improved version of the everyday-content marketer, who must master the basics of building a content-delivery system:

  • Mining social and customer data for content insights and ideas—after all, people are telling us what content they want in social media and Google
  • Designing content for many screens and contexts—for when mom’s standing in the aisle at Target as opposed to on her tablet in front of the TV
  • Getting facile with all sorts of multimedia—from low-fi videos to the ubiquitous infographic, you need a virtual content factory today
  • Delivering content across a wide network—not just posting on owned and social sites but delivering content through partners and even ad channels
  • Evaluating and optimizing all of the time—real-time adjustments to content delivery are the name of the game today

Social Content Marketers come at all of this with one fundamental difference: They do everything possible to get people to share that content. Every day they answer the question, “Why would my customers and their influencers care about this content enough to spend some time with it and pass it along to a friend or social connection?”

Those same consultants I mentioned earlier—they will tell you that all you need to get there is to hire a brand journalist. Not true. Journalists and editors savvy with drafting great content are only one piece of the puzzle. For that, your journalists and editors will need to be part of a new kind of team. You need social strategists who understand how and why people share, a range of content creators who grasp the fast tempo of quality content, and data specialists who can read the tea leaves in social media and search. It’s not a media company, but neither is it a one-person operation.

If a brand wants to build valuable and sustained relationships with their customers, they surely should become the best social-content marketers they can. They don’t need to become a media company, but they must make the investment in the content that sells.


John Bell, Global Managing Director of Social@Ogilvy, writes The Digital Influence Mapping Project. Follow him @jbell99.

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