Content is all around us every day. Some of that content is interesting and engaging. Other content pieces just fly by us, doomed to be ignored. As a simple test of this point, ask yourself, which type of content are you more likely to click on:
An alert in your RSS feed that Brand Z has just published a new report on the effectiveness of its widgets in solving problems you may or may not have.
A comment and a link in your LinkedIn or Facebook feed from someone with whom you interact regularly about an interesting new approach by Brand X to solving a problem you may or may not have.
I am going to guess that only Brand Z’s marketing director would be likely to choose Article A.
It is hardly revolutionary to say that social recommendations drive our brand interactions. This is not a new phenomenon, and one could argue that it represents the entire value of social marketing for businesses.
But what if the article referenced in Article B is not an article at all, merely an individual influencer’s view of the world? And what if you are the chief storyteller at Brand X? How do you feel? Are you empowering those influencers in the network? Are you co-opting them? Are you engaging them?
Even in B2B marketing, these kinds of social shares and comments are happening every day, all around us. In today’s ridiculously networked world, it’s very easy to feel like you are losing control over your brand.
Real life example
Pinterest recently launched its new business pages. Within 24 hours, HubSpot had already posted a “how-to” centered on how to create these new business pages. An amazingly fast and well-timed post ensured that HubSpot was central to the discussion on the new Pinterest business pages.
In just one week, the post had racked up 1,200+ tweets, 500+ shares, and 1,300 links (oddly, no “pins” were tracked), with most of those coming in the first day or two after posting.
Among the 38 comments was this gem:
And yet, Pinterest did blog about its launch here.
Though the post did get 45 comments, it’s unclear how many tweets or shares it received because Pinterest does not show the tracking of that information. (really?!)
This is a stark example of a company ceding control over its message to a community of influencers well outside of its four walls. As recently as five years ago (maybe even three years ago), most marketing executives in that situation would be screaming about that loss of control. Today, it’s much easier to accept these new realities, and instead find ways to co-opt the community and leverage its “network effect” rather than try to control it.
The three “Es:” Three steps to empowering your community
Embrace: The first step to success in the new reality of community-driven content marketing is to simply embrace the trend, rather than fight it.
In the Pinterest example, as soon as the Pinterest marketing team identified the conversation happening on HubSpot’s blog (or anywhere else, for that matter), they should have been commenting directly as a Pinterest rep. A direct reply to the comment about notification — and/or perhaps another helpful comment that expanded on the premise of the article — would have contributed to the dialogue.
Tip: Keep monitoring discussions surrounding your brand, and comment frequently if the discussion continues over the course of days and weeks.
Of course, it’s important to also realize that not all communities are created equal. Start with the most relevant, timely, thoughtful, and engaging, and then work backward from there, as time and staff allow.
Extend: You need to get your own content and point of view into the community, as well. There are a number of studies that suggest that your buyers may be 70 percent of the way through their buyer’s journey before ever connecting with a brand directly. If these buyers are not seeing you in their early research stage, they may miss you altogether.
How? You need to be creating content more often than you ever have before, and for as many platforms as possible. Write for highly consumable media that enable easy sharing, such as blogs or social media. And while it’s important to write for your own company blog and your own web platforms, it’s just as essential that you add content that serves your business community, as well, such as posting on LinkedIn Groups or other industry-related forums.
Tip: Be sure to give your writing a personality. Not every piece of content you write has to be the most thoughtful and/or strategic to your business — sometimes it’s just as important that you relate to your audience on a more personal level. For example, we wrote this post about Halloween contests, and it wound up being one of our top posts for the month.
Empower: The last “E” is to provide ways for your prospects to convert directly from within the community, thus empowering the community as a channel in and of itself.
Rather than asking prospects to return to your site or your blog to continue their research, offer an alternative path that encourages increased engagement. This could be as simple as offering a special “10 percent discount for LinkedIn group members,” or something lighter, like the ability to register for an upcoming event.
The key with all of these steps is to remove the barriers to engagement. Get people interacting with your brand, and your story, before you start to sell them. After that, you can start to measure the returns, and then repeat the process using what you’ve learned to make improvements.
Lastly, don’t forget to have a little fun. We get so fired up about online, social, community, etc., that it’s important to realize that online and offline can be married in unique and interesting ways. To wit, take a look at this Facebook photo of a business’s sandwich board that acknowledges, and pokes a bit of fun at, its social community’s comments:
The irony here is that the online paradigm went offline, and then back to online, once the picture was posted to Facebook!
Do you have a great story about engaging, extending and empowering? Do share in the comments below!
Want more ideas for engaging your audience across online communities? Read Michael Silverman’s CMI book, “Capturing Community.”
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons: Courtesy of Jurvetson
Post on Pinterest from HubSpot blog
Pub sandwich board image via PR Daily