By Patricia Redsicker published May 9, 2011

First Things First – Content Strategy Before Social Strategy

At the heart of social media is the desire that every consumer has to talk about something interesting, compelling and relevant and to share that information with his or her friends.

The question marketers must ask themselves is: “What makes my brand so interesting that people will want to talk about it and share it with their friends?” (Even boring brands have something interesting to say!)

You can’t succeed in social media if you don’t have something interesting to say.

At this point in your social media experience, you (hopefully) understand that social media marketing is not just about having a Facebook page or a Twitter profile.

Social media is the vehicle for communicating and distributing interesting stories (content) across the internet. In turn, readers share the content they think is compelling.

What does content strategy have to do with it?

The purpose of content strategy is to facilitate the consistent delivery of interesting stories. The end result is that you will attract and retain the attention of the targeted audience that you want to reach.

Imagine for a moment that you’re invited to pitch your business to a room full of potential investors. They’re willing to hear your story and let you persuade them with your ideas. How much time do you think you would need to prepare for such an opportunity? A week? A month? More?

The point is you’d be foolish to simply show up, stand on the podium and say whatever comes to mind.

And yet, most businesses do exactly that when it comes to social media. Given the opportunity to present their brand to an online audience of potential customers, they simply show up without preparing a compelling message.

What a wasted opportunity.

Preparation is important because social media is a very active space. There’s a lot to do and a ton of conversations taking place. It is a very distracting environment, and everyone has a very short attention span.

You have to figure out what kind of conversation you’re going to spark that will make people pay attention to you because in social media attention is very hard to get (or retain for that matter).

Your competition isn’t the guy or gal who sells the same stuff that you do. Your competition is every person, every brand, every church, every small business, every big technology company, every politician and every celebrity who has something interesting to say.

That’s why it’s important to have a plan (content strategy). And that’s why your plan must be put in place before you show up on any social media channel.

How do I approach my own content strategy?

As you brainstorm your own content strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • What niche do I want to be known for?  Example: Chiropractor.
  • What are my customers’ challenges? Example: Back-pain.
  • What kind of content do they consume? Example: Articles and videos
  • How can I create interesting yet consistent content that will attract new customers and retain old ones? Example: Create a blog on my website showing them how to manage back injury and how to treat back pain (featuring both text and video).  Publish weekly.
  • When all is said and done, what business results do I want to achieve for all my hard work? Example: More clients and more sales.
  • How will I know if this stuff is working? Example: By periodically measuring how many new customers and how many new sales, I have made since executing my content strategy.

Do I need a social strategy to make this work?

Indeed, you can achieve your business objectives through your content strategy without social media marketing. For example, visitors using long-tail search terms (e.g. lower back pain or injury-related back pain) can certainly find your content through Google or Bing (although this doesn’t happen overnight).

However, social media marketing can help you distribute your content much faster and reach more people than your website. But, your social strategy doesn’t need to be complicated, and it certainly doesn’t need the help of a ‘guru.’ It’s simply a plan that will work seamlessly with your content strategy to help you achieve your business goals.

To do this, first understand how consumers behave online:

  • They meet in different places (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Digg);
  • They read, share and discuss different content (blogs, videos, podcasts, music);
  • They evaluate brands based on content. “People buy products to accomplish something” ~ Clayton Christensen author of It’s the Purpose Brand, Stupid. A brand’s content needs to explain what that ‘something’ is.
  • They are connected with one another and influence each other’s purchasing decisions (e.g. GAP logo story)

In other words, online conversations are the new market place.

The conversation opportunity

Organizations that understand this behavior are able to communicate directly with consumers and influence their perception of their brands. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Think about where your customers are located online and join those communities.
  • Establish a listening campaign to figure out who’s doing the talking and what’s being said.
  • Consider how you will connect with the more influential ‘conversationalists’ within those communities. Do you need to create your own Facebook page or Linkedin profile? Or do you need to comment regularly on select blogs? Use these channels to interact with your community by asking questions (surveys), participating and contributing to conversations (comments/discussion forums) and sharing your expertise (your content).
  • Share whatever is going on in your offline world with your online community (pictures and videos).
  • Reach out to other bloggers (guest blogging).
  • Respond quickly to comments and feedback on your own blog.

Quick recap: Content marketing is enhanced by social media but can also survive without it. Social media on the other hand, would not be popular without interesting, informative or humorous content. Before entering the social media space, you need a plan to figure out how to deliver interesting content on a consistent basis so that you may attract and retain the attention of your target audience. That is your content strategy.

Author: Patricia Redsicker

Patricia Redsicker is a content marketing expert from Baltimore MD. As owner and senior marketing writer at WordView Editing Patricia works with healthcare organizations to develop content strategies that attract and retain customers. Her blog provides content marketing insights to aspiring bloggers and healthcare marketers. You may follow her on Twitter at @predsicker.

Other posts by Patricia Redsicker

  • Kcesarz

    Great summary post, Patricia. This ties in content strategy to social media strategy. It’s a challenge to get clients to slow down and listen first before launching social media channels. I think you provide compelling reasons for a measured approach.

    • Patricia Redsicker

      Thanks so much for your feedback @Kcesarz. I too find that a lot of organizations are in a rush to jump into social media for fear of being ‘left behind.’ While it is a common (and very understandable) mistake, there’s really a need to educate them on the need for planning – after all they already understand the importance of business planning and so the key is to get them to see that social media requires a plan too.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for your feedback @e0d6a718843d35cf7ec93c04483db4d4:disqus . I too find that a lot of organizations are in a rush to jump into social media for fear of being ‘left behind.’ While it is a common (and very understandable) mistake, there’s really a need to educate them on the need for planning – after all they already understand the importance of business planning and so the key is to get them to see that social media requires a plan too.

  • Anonymous

    Patricia: AMEN!!! Social media are indeed just channels (albeit with unique characteristics) to continue to interact with customers and prospects.

    I often use this analogy to help people understand why content marketing is at the core of social media marketing:

    You’re a Brand, and you’ve been invited to a cocktail party with lots of customers and prospects. What you say, to whom, and how you say it (the content strategy) is paramount to engaging those folks. Too often, Brands come to such a party and treat it like broadcast advertising of the past: “buy me!” “I’m a buy one get one” “like me!” NO one wants to spend time with a bore like that. Instead, just as we do in real life cocktail parties, engage your customers/prospects. Ask what they like, are looking for, what their dreams and fears are, and so on. TELL STORIES that aren’t about YOU, but about how THEY can be helped BY you.

    At the end of the night, you’ll leave the party with more ‘LIKES,’ and solid new relationships…and it all starts with a content marketing strategy.

    Thanks again, @Predsicker – great stuff.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much @contentkeith:disqus . You’re spot on with the cocktail analogy. I’m pretty optimistic that things are going to change fast. The ‘bore’ at the cocktail party soon realizes (I hope ;) that no-one is interested in his narcissistic chatter and he decides to change his strategy at the next party. My hope is that folks don’t have to make that initial mistake before they make an entrance. That if they put a few simple yet proven techniques into practice, that they will create new relationships and get ‘LIKED’ more. It’s a tough, new space, but I think people want to learn how to make it work. Great example Keith :)

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Patricia,

    I love this post. (Why didn’t I write it??) An interesting thing about a good content strategy is it makes the social media strategy a lot more obvious. Instead of a ‘what are we going to say’ planning session, you have a ‘how and when are we going to say all this’ session.

    When a client tells me they’re struggling with social media, it’s ALWAYS because they don’t have their content sorted out.

    Cheers,
    Sarah

    PS I was delighted you referenced a very old post I wrote at CMI. Another great reason to blog, your stuff never goes away. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Sarah,

      I’m so thrilled to have your feedback. And yes, social media marketing does suffer when folks have not sorted out their content needs. You would know since you teach this stuff all the time. As for your old blog article – it was perfect for this post, so thank you for your input.
      P.S. So why didn’t you write this Sarah? LOL! – take care.

  • http://twitter.com/ColletteHanna Collette Hanna

    LOVE this article. As a newbie to Twitter (reluctantly and begrudgingly using it, as I’m more of a Facebook fan), this boils it all down to something tangible and practical. I can now see Twitter as a great business tool. (And now I’m following you on Twitter!) The online conversation as the new marketplace makes perfect sense. Thx!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Collette,

      I see we have much in common – I too am not a Twitter fan – Facebook is the real deal for me. However, I can’t dismiss the fact that Twitter provides an opportunity for conversation (with a much wider variety of people) in a way that Facebook does not. Interestingly, I realized the need for a strategy after hanging out on Twitter for a while, being ignored and wondering what I was doing wrong. Then I did a bit of research and discovered that the missing piece was actually a content strategy. Thanks so much for your positive feedback – I’ll follow you on Twitter as well. Cheers!

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  • http://twitter.com/Venicetti Vincenzo Venicetti

    Interesting, well thought out post. I wonder how this would work in a company where one launches products in several different countries/languages/cultures and under different product and company names. One could argue that the ability to participate in the conversation may be best decentralized in each country. In an environment where facts/specifications/visual design elements are designed at a corporate level but sold and marketed at a local level the debate arises between differentiation and homogenization. Let every country create their own content strategy, delivered locally in each country/language through local FB, T etc. or a centralized strategy delivered centrally, or some combination of the two. And the icing on the cake comes when local entities and the central corporate marketing try to figure out who pays for the team(s) of community managers, writers, strategists etc. An interesting web to untangle.

    • Patricia

      You’ve totally nailed it @twitter-5811492:disqus – the idea of developing a social business model that fits your company profile/culture is not very mature in social media strategy and is mostly used by bigger companies. But it is important to experiment with different social models e.g. decentralized model or the ‘Hub and Spoke’ model where each business unit develops their own social business initiatives in an ordered fashion co-ordinated from a central location (hub).

      In the scenario that you describe where a company is represented in different countries, you’re right – it is not practical to have a centralized approach since each location has its own culture and consumer preference. There are other significant social business models too and I think you’ve just encouraged me to write an article on my blog specifically about this issue – I will certainly tackle some of the interesting points you bring up. Thanks so much for your awesome feedback. Cheers!

  • Tina Reed Johnson

    I appreciate your article, Patricia. There needs to be a lot more thought about social media content and strategy, especially by those of us aspiring to be successful social media managers! Thanks for this…

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Tina. I’m glad you found this article useful. Social media is such a fast-paced environment and there’s always so much for all of us to learn. No sooner have you mastered something than a new thing comes along. If you like, I suggest that you follow Jeremiah Owyang on Twitter – he’s done a lot of research in social strategies. All the best Tina.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Tina. I’m glad you found this article useful. Social media is such a fast-paced environment and there’s always so much for all of us to learn. No sooner have you mastered something than a new thing comes along. If you like, I suggest that you follow Jeremiah Owyang on Twitter – he’s done a lot of research in social strategies. All the best Tina.

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    This is nice post share over here. The purpose of agreeable action is to facilitate the constant supply
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  • Nora

    Well said–a concise primer.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Nora!

  • http://twitter.com/CreativesMarket Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt

    Very nice, Patricia. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks very much Sheri.

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    Great post, we struggle with this a lot of content development strategies of some of our customers, especially for social profiles.

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     Content is very useful for the discussion…this is nice article by you.

  • Salmo

    Excellent information to start a work with social midia, it gives insight to understand how content marketing it really works. Great job Patricia.

  • TheWritersSocial

    Great article it gives me lots of ideas for my followers.

  • mohammad

    very nice.good luck

  • http://www.edwindearborn.com/ Edwin Dearborn

    Correct. Social media is like the ole mailing list of subscribers, and the content is the newspaper.

  • Jeff Onwordi

    Hi Patricia,
    very informative article. I am diving into the content marketing and have seen the benefits of this. Thanks

  • Ryan White

    Thanks for the great article…I enjoyed the “how do I approach my own content strategy section” there are some great basic questions there to get people thinking in the right direction.

    Thanks again,
    Ryan

  • http://www.constructaquote.com/ El Wood

    Very interesting article! Some useful tips for anyone looking to start their own content marketing strategy – so often people worry about having a social media presence without considering the quality of their content first.

  • http://searchenginedailynews.blogspot.in/ Jennykampa

    Good article patricia Redsicker..Very useful information..

  • Spook SEO

    This is just like fixing your things first before going to the public. You
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  • SocialSellingInsider

    great insights Patricia, many people I’ve done business with have this backwards. they go for social first. You make a great case why it’s content strategy first

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    Nice content… thanks for sharing…