For a time, social media and content marketing may have seemed interchangeable, but they are actually quite different. Though there can be quite a bit of overlap, the easiest way to think about their relationship is that content is needed to drive social media, while social media is most essential during two key content marketing processes:
- Listening to your audience to understand what they care about, so you can create content that they will find engaging and relevant
- Distributing content (from your business, as well as from others — i.e., Andrew Davis’s 4-1-1 approach)
In short, you really can’t have one without the other.
In this fourth installment of our Back to Basics series, I’ll outline the basics of developing a content plan for social media, and will also share key elements of CMI’s plan as a working example.
Successful social media starts with solid content marketing processes
While any organization can use social media to listen — and there is no downside to that — before you actively set up your social media presence, you need some things in place:
- A content hub: Your blog or website should be a key component of your content marketing strategy (as well as your social media strategy), as this is where you would direct followers to forge a deeper relationship on a media platform that you own. As Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose have discussed on their podcast, This Old Marketing, you need to stop building your content on rented land.
- Adequate resources to keep up a consistent presence: Having an outdated presence on a social platform looks far worse that not having a presence there at all. Before committing to a platform, make sure you have the resources you need to consistently update your content there.
- A content plan: You need to understand why you are communicating on a given platform, and what you will deliver there. More details on the key elements of the plan are below.
Key tip: If you are new to aligning your content marketing and social media efforts, it’s best to start small. Consider the top social platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube), and see where the largest concentration of your target audience members are congregating. (Learn more about how and when to focus your social media efforts.)
Here is a look at how marketers in various industries and geographies use social media to distribute content.
The key elements of a social media content plan
As mentioned above, for best results, you need to have a dedicated plan for every channel you intend to distribute social media content on. Just because you can share something on every channel there is, doesn’t mean that you should.
To create a basic social media plan, answer these questions for every channel you are considering:
What is the goal of this channel?
You need to have a reason to be on every channel on which you decide to publish content. “To gain followers” is not a viable reason, in and of itself, but “to gain followers on Facebook to drive brand awareness and traffic back to our website” can be. The important part here is that your content on the channel will serve as a means to convert the viewer into taking the next step in your desired purchase process — i.e., move them from Facebook follower to website viewer, email subscriber, event attendee, or whatever conversion goal you choose.
What is the desired action?
Similar to the point above, you need to figure out what you want someone to do in each channel. Share? Comment? Visit your website? Register for something?
What is the specific type of content the audience wants to get in this channel?
Customize the content you distribute on each channel. Consider what messages are appropriate for each channel and create a message you think will resonate with that specific audience. Think about the kind of informational needs people in this channel have and how you can help. Will you primarily publish text, images, or video? Check out last week’s post for more guidance on choosing the best topics and formats for your audience.
What is the right tone for this channel?
As you consider the topics and content formats in each channel, it’s critical to determine what the overall tone for the channel should be. Friendly? Fun? Conversational? Professional?
What is the ideal velocity?
It’s a smart idea to understand how often you want to publish content in each channel. How many posts do you want to publish per day/week? What time of day is best? You’ll have different cadences depending on if you are sending/responding to tweets, updating your Facebook status or publishing a new SlideShare, for example. Our team has found that posting on Facebook once or twice a day, monitoring Twitter all day, and spending time each day on LinkedIn works best for CMI. But every company is different, so you will want to spend some time determining the schedule that’s likely to work best for you and your customers.
Key tip: Let your goals dictate the decisions you make in regard to social media content. For example, if the goal of your content marketing plan is to increase email subscribers, would it really make sense to broadcast all your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter? What reason would readers have to subscribe to your email program if they can get the same information on the social channels they already visit regularly? Think about how you can tweak and repurpose the content you share on your social networks, both as it applies to your goals for the channel and to your overarching business objectives.
An example from CMI
As CMI has grown over the past seven years, so, too, has our social media presence. At the beginning, we admit to being a bit haphazard with our approach; but over the years we have developed a more strategic plan and have tailored our content marketing processes accordingly.
Here is how we approach some of our key channels in terms of both content and distribution:
Twitter: We’re active on Twitter every day, sharing thoughts from our community, as well as promoting our own content. However, our favorite thing we do on Twitter is our weekly#CMWorld chats (every Tuesday at noon ET). It’s something we started in the summer of 2013 as a way to promote the topics and speakers from our annual Content Marketing World event, but it was so useful that our community asked us to continue them throughout the year. (Read more about our Twitter chat strategy.) Twitter, both during the chats and at other times, has helped us develop a community of influencers and a trusted network. This community has guided many of our efforts in regards to our daily blog posts and even some sessions and tracks for Content Marketing World.
LinkedIn: Our LinkedIn strategy focuses on discussing industry trends with the members of our CMI LinkedIn group. We have noticed that this group tends to like content specific to careers and to content marketing strategies. We’ve also used it to bounce around ideas we are considering for either our magazine or our live events. It has helped us gauge interest and needs and fine-tune some of our efforts, as a result. Also, by actively moderating posts within this community, our group members trust that the content appearing in our group feed has been vetted by the Content Marketing Institute, which helps maintain our position as a trusted content marketing resource.
Facebook: This is the channel where we like to share the fun side of CMI (after all, isn’t that what Facebook is all about?). We use it to discuss news, events, and a new content marketing example each week, as well as to share exciting news and announcements on things that are happening within CMI. We have a fun team, and this gives us all an opportunity to showcase our personalities. Our weekly coverage of content marketing examples has allowed us to share some great work by brands, which has given our audience a chance to see the work of others and think, “We could do that too.”
SlideShare: We aim to publish three or four new SlideShare presentations per month. It has been interesting to track which kinds of presentations get the most views and leads, and we make sure to mix up our presentations to align with our content marketing strategy and still generate interest and buzz. Since most of CMI’s content is ungated, publishing presentations on SlideShare gives our community access to view and reference nearly everything we produce — all we ask in return is an email address if our customer would like to download this content. The longer-form content we share here has increased our leads, as these presentations are better suited for downloading and referencing/printing, while our short-form and livelier presentations have a higher tendency for social shares and to draw in new followers.