By JT Anderson published September 21, 2011

How Should Content Play in the Social Universe?

With the dizzying array of digital platforms — and the increasingly interconnected and social nature of those platforms — you have to have a strategic plan for managing your content efforts that goes beyond the “content is king” rallying cry. Publishing giants and local email newsletters,  massive record labels and small independents,  major movie studios, TV networks, and recent film school graduates all have the same goal: They need to deliver enjoyable and valuable content to the right people at the right place at the right time. And if all goes well, they’ll make a little money too.

As marketers playing in content’s domain, we have a unique challenge. We are hired to achieve a desired client objective, and we do this by working within an industry of content creators. But from our perspective, the content is the medium — it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. We do our work to incite change, or generate engagement for our clients, and we need to create the best content possible to achieve this. But at the end of the day, unlike with a TV network, the content is not the point — the action is.

When marketing plays in the social media universe

Social media has not only transformed web content — and the web itself — it has pulled people online in ever increasing numbers.

That brings us to the real question: “What kind of content should I put into my social media campaigns?” This is not a simple question, so there is no simple answer.  But here are a few tips to consider when creating social media content that drives your desired action.

1. Don’t start by asking the creative team

I run a creative department, and I can almost smell the tomatoes that are about to be hurled at my office door as I write this. I want to be clear: No team in our company is more engaged and interested in creating content than the creative group is, and as the volume of content we create grows, so too does our excitement. We are like kids in a candy store! But because of the shifting role of content in marketing, the strategy team has never been more important.

With the stakes for content success so high, gone are the days where strategy can be backed into the creative. Strategy needs to take the lead and have a plan in place that creative can follow and execute on. The best plan of attack is for the strategy team to:

  1. Work with the client.
  2. Determine the goals.
  3. Shape the key messages.
  4. Evaluate the best format and platform options.
  5. Point creative in the right direction so they can work their magic and bring it all to life.

2. Focus on the main objectives

Remember, you create content to spark a consumer into action. But every piece of content must, in its own right, fit as part of your total marketing plan.

Maybe your goal is to excite consumers and get them interested in your product. Or maybe you want to instruct them or ensure continued use of your product. All of these business objectives are important to map out, but there is another objective to consider as well: the consumer’s objectives. What does the target audience really want, and how can you create engaging content that will help them meet their needs and goals, not just your goals?

When determining where this content will live in the social media world, ask yourself how your consumers generally use social media and what their state of mind is when they do? The research tools (Forrester, eMarketer, etc.) we can use to provide this information get more sophisticated every day. If you don’t have access to these tools, start “social media monitoring” otherwise known as logging in and looking around at what your competition is doing, where are they engaging customers, what types of content are they using to communicate with them, and what results are they getting. You have to consider both your goals and the goals of your target audience before you write a single word or turn on a video camera.

3. The ongoing conversation is content

You launch content into the social space for a reason, but sometimes the results of that content getting out there moves you into unanticipated places. Social media horror stories have taught us that the old saying is incorrect: There is such a thing as bad publicity. The more we play in the social space by allowing consumers to share, shape, and control our content, the greater the danger that our message will be confused or turned into something completely unintended.

That’s okay, though. Individuals will comment and repost, and you have to accept that. But you must also recognize that how you acknowledge outside perspectives (whether positive or negative) and how quickly you share your client’s point of view is as impactful as the content that inspired the conversation in the first place. Your comments are content.

We have had our share of negative comments surrounding our content, but we’ve found that if we respond in a concerned, rational manner many other positive voices join in to drown out the negative ones. Overreacting by removing or limiting unfavorable feedback is a definite no-no. In social media, conversation is the whole point. If you are going to place a bet by entering this space and it starts to feel uncomfortable, you need to let it ride and focus instead on how you should respond in order to defuse the situation. It’s the only choice, and it’s the right one.

There are no simple answers, but you can use social media to achieve almost any content marketing goal from awareness to customer relationship management. If you start out in the right direction, you might be surprised by where it can take you. Be focused, be creative, be open. Your friends, fans, and followers will thank you.

Author: JT Anderson

JT Anderson is VP Executive Creative Director at Enlighten, one of the nation's original interactive agencies. Before joining Enlighten he held lead roles within various Leo Burnett / Publicis shops. He has over a decade of digital marketing experience handling clients such as Kellogg's, Diageo, Blackberry, Nintendo, and P&G. Current clients include Johnson & Johnson, Hunter Douglas, John Frieda, Jergens, and Bioré. You can follow Enlighten on Twitter @EnlightenAgency.

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  • Sergei Dolukhanov

    Because of the fundamental structure of social media, it’s really easy to get blitzed if you push bad content on to the web. ESPECIALLY if generally have a reputation of creating high quality content. 

    Keep in mind that during the ‘focus’ phase, you can either go after the masses or try to target influencers and have content trickle out from the top down. Many people find the latter most effective, because many minds sharing something is always better than one. Try both to see what works best for you. 
    Also, social media monitoring is nice for keeping tabs on the competition, sure. You can see what they are up in your industry, and maybe create a fancy chart or two. Don’t overspend for these, however, because many decent ones are free. The expensive ones (and free ones for that matter) still have trouble tying social data they find to your business, an important piece of the puzzle for any upper-echelon executive. 

    If you want to see how social data actually impacts your business, you should probably look in to something like social media business intelligence. It’s everything a smm tool could offer, but adds an in-depth service and reporting layer that fills the gap that makes everything relevant to your business. 

    Sorry I got a little bit off topic here. Great post JT, thanks. 

    – Sergei Dolukhanov

  • Keith Wiegold

    Good post, JT — I’d argue that Social Media Marketing IS content marketing.  And it starts, maintains, and ends with the customer.  They are on their favored social sites/channels sharing, talking, recommending, diss-ing, connecting, re-connecting, and so on.  Creating engaging content.  And to be invited into their circles, Brands should be doing exactly the same things…but instead, we get ads and 10% off promotions.  Until Brands accept that their role in this ‘party’ is to create content that is either educational, informational, entertaining, or inspirational (or hopefully all of the above) — and tied directly and relevantly to the customer’s wants and needs — they will continue down the path of treating social media marketing as a ‘media’ where they interrupt an aggregated audience’s engagement to offer a ‘word from our sponsor.’

  • Huntington Cudahy

    JT, –  I agree with your perspective that “content is the medium … a means to an end, not the end itself.”  Since a brand’s content will be shared (hopefully) across multiple social platforms, and discussed by both targeted and non-targeted users alike, the key is to create content that first and foremost supports a brands identity.  If you can accomplish that goal then your content will resonate with users and withstand any negative commentary that might occur around it.

    Huntington Cudahy
    Octane Rich Media

  • Amanda Maksymiw

    Thanks for sharing this advice.  I especially want to stress the importance of focusing on your overall objections.  Too often companies jump on the bandwagon of social media or mobile marketing, etc because it is the thing to do.  Instead, these companies should take a step back and ask themselves, “How will this help us achieve our goals?”


  • Tracy Gold


    I’m definitely surprised by your first point–it’s quite different from the standard. The opposite argument, to bring creative in right away, is spelled out very well in Pam Didner’s post on Intel’s The Museum of Me, here: 

    I’m not sure, however, if I agree or disagree. I’ve been on both sides of the strategic and creative equation, both as a freelance writer and while employed at Right Source Marketing. A good strategic briefing–where the strategic counterpart has spent significant time interviewing the client, and then spends significant time recapping that interview to creative, can be a big time saver for creative. But if any part of that interview or brief is poorly done, lost in translation, or rushed, creative ends up with an insufficient understanding of strategy–meaning, for writing at least, endless and drastic rewrites–wasted time. 
    I definitely prefer to be in on the original strategic conversations if I’m doing creative work–even if I’m just a silent listener (which doesn’t come too easily for me, ha!). But with a good brief, you can still do good work. 

    Thanks for the thought starter!

  • Barry Feldman

    I like what you’ve said. Having been both on a creative team and the leader of a creative team, I’ll stay out of the debate concerning point #1. I’ll add something to point 32, or try… I believe that focusing on their goals is spot on. However, to understand what their goals are, one needs to understand WHO they are. Seems to me it’s often convenient to take that step for granted (so we do) and make too many assumptions. But, in this age of hyper niche marketing, you sabotage your effort to not totally research the audience… who they are, how they think, how they behave. Vital stuff, right?