By Jen Houston published May 29, 2013

How Your Social Media Content Can Drive Sales-Focused Engagement

social media contentI have a pseudo obsession with rocks and hills. Not as much their geology, but rather I am fixated on rise, elevation, terrain, and the promised vista once you summit. The interplay between the human body’s abilities and the trail’s unique features fascinates me.

I find myself abstracting this passion in my work life. Five years ago, during a recruiting lunch, as I was selling my now dear friend and content junkie, David Patton, on a groundbreaking role as editor-in-chief of Waggener Edstrom, I described myself as a person who relished pushing big rocks up big hills. Without missing a beat, he asked if I knew I was a masochist. I knew he had the job right then and there.

No surprise that I recently found myself in the middle of a new marketing Stonehenge. This time the basalt was the role of content in social sales — as defined by the engagement cycle that social media enables for marketing and sales teams (an illustration of this is the moment when a sales person gets a lead and goes directly to LinkedIn to find out more and connect). And perhaps an even bigger climb I had to tackle was what happens with marketers and sales teams when we use social media content to engage and nurture our customers and potential customers.

What are the implications of content in social sales? 

There are plenty of definitions flying about for social sales, social media content marketing, and engagement. To put it simply, your customers want to be in the driver’s seat. They want you to add value for them. So your content strategy should focus on becoming the destination for that engagement.

If engagement is the goal line of our content creation, then social sales is the home stretch. By harnessing the right conversation and providing the right content value to the right people on the right platform at the right time, you will ultimately reach that sales summit.

Let me be clear, content marketers: You are responsible for converting leads to sales, not just for generating content. In fact, you’re a key player in the social sales process.

When it comes to social sales, the space between marketing and sales collapses. Read on for a mini case study of the social sales process.

When content marketing and social sales collide 

I learned this lesson when preparing to launch PaperShare, a content publishing engine. We planned to use our product to market… our product. The experience was one of those moments in a marketer’s life when you realize you’re walking around with rocks in your shoes, and you don’t know where or how you got them, but wow, they are an obvious and painful symptom of being on the bleeding edge.

We had our launch strategy. We had created our content — in this case, a white paper about using content for lead generation. We understood our audiences, and targeted an outlet for the white paper where we knew that audience would be. We had also established our metrics: Since we were launching the company, we needed awareness; but we also wanted leads and, ultimately, adoption of the PaperShare platform. With all our plans in place, we were ready to go live.

After publishing, a landing page was generated for audiences to click-through to. There, readers could view an image of the white paper, existing social commentary about the actual piece of content, and a quick value proposition overview. We utilized PaperShare’s social log-in functionality in front of the piece of content to ensure that we captured all reads as actual leads (vs. a web form that might experience high drop-off rates). And then we held our breath and waited…

This is what we found:

how we use papershare

The good news: 40 to 45 percent of readers clicked through using social log-in — unheard of returns. Because each piece of content had been socially amplified, we received a 10 percent lift in additional views from the initial readers’ social networks, and with additional views of related content and the new followers our content created, we gained 610 opportunities for engagement through a two-day placement. We were living the promise of social sales: harnessing content at the center, along with the amplification and contextual power of social media, to establish leads and buzz, then creating an engagement zone for follow up.

Enter the rocks of uncertainty, as we then experienced a prime example of the collapse in the roles of marketing and sales: All this opportunity lay before us, but we still had questions, like who follows up next? What is the next best action? What was the call to action for content? Can you ask a user to download a 30-day trial just because they’ve read your white paper? In the old model, we would have tossed the leads over the fence to the sales team. But these leads had made their intentions loud and clear: They simply wanted to engage with the valuable content we provided. Somehow, a call-to-action invitation to “get started today” seemed like it would have dismissed the value of the vehicle that had brought the lead in the door in the first place. 

The power of sitting with the sales team

And so we found ourselves sitting with the sales team, creating a leads strategy centered on content and driven by the intersection of marketing and sales. In trying to determine how best to proceed, we realized that each viewer of the white paper would be at different points in their sales engagement, so the only logical answer was, “It depends.” Because we now knew who the leads were, we were able to identify other actions they then took (or had taken previously). And together, using that knowledge, we built a pattern of engagement against action and interest, bucketing the leads into different categories of interest.

The PaperShare platform allowed us to identify usage patterns — which pieces of content they had read; what the broad themes were for social conversations sparked by that content; trends in engagement by industry, title, or role; who the most qualified leads were; and what information was deemed most valuable by these readers. Through social follow-up, we were also able to determine which of our personas was most resonant against each of the leads.

I was struck by how closely interrelated the questions were. Sales and marketing were not two separate teams with two separate work streams any longer. Instead, we were creating a social sales strategy from the ground up — imagining a new architecture for engagement.

What we learned from the rocks in our shoes:

  • Content doesn’t end at creation, curation, or distribution. It ends after that lead has been identified, nurtured, and has finally taken a sales action. That’s the last mile.
  • The social sales playbook requires thoughtful evaluation of the outcomes desired and the processes necessary to get there. Before you publish.
  • During the engagement cycle, the space between marketing and sales collapses. Embrace it.

I’d love to hear what you’re learning and what tips you have for your social sales playbook. We’ll keep sharing what we’ve learned.

If you’re looking for more insight on the integration of sales and content processes, you won’t want to miss Content Marketing World 2013. Early-bird pricing is only available until May 31, so register today! 

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Jen Houston

Jen Houston uses business disruption to propel organizations to the forefront of their industry by creating new categories and re-imagining established businesses. Jen, known as the "Easy-bake Oven of new ideas," was the founder of Waggener Edstrom's digital arm, WE Studio D, and currently consults on marketing and content strategies for PaperShare, the real-time publishing engine that turns content into customers. Follow Jen on Twitter @jhouston89.

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  • Scott Vetter

    You’re bang on Jen and it’s enlightening to read your “case study” of PaperShare.
    We hit that same wall (sorry, I mean hill) a while back and realized that it was critical to work with the client’s sales team to form a successful approach (and execution).

    We’re in the midst of redoing our website, and part of that is to effectively communicate the process required to achieve results. (perhaps we’ll seek a quote from you!) it doesn’t sop at content generation or simply happen by using “marketing automation” software See recent post:

    Thank you for your insight, Jen.

    • Jen Houston

      Thanks Scott. There is much to be learned as we wade into content marketing – and the behavioral and cultural issues may end up being as big as the technology solutions. Glad you enjoyed it (liked your post too!).

  • Chris

    I read all your articles! Thanks for all the interesting information.

    • Jen Houston

      Thanks, Chris!

  • David Patton

    A great case study. In my experience, the effort and energy put into the content creation is overwhelming to the point where the business goal can get lost. As you referenced so kindly, I cam over from the journalism world and I’ve learned in four years that the goals in digital journalism are very relevant to content marketing. Yes, journalism is about creating great content, but the action that the outlet want the audience to take is to look at something else on the site. That’s why online news sites are covered with calls to action to read or view more content.
    In the sales funnel, it is a longer process, but now that audience experience can be tracked and made more efficient and impactful.

    • Jen Houston

      Hello fellow content junkie. 🙂 You’re totally right and I am daily inspired by what you and the journalist community has taught the marketing community – keep ’em reading. Thanks for being a partner in crime.