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3 Strides to a Sustainable Content Marketing Strategy

crowd of people-arms raisedIt’s becoming increasingly clear that pure brand-to-visitor content marketing cannot be sustained over the long term. Not only does the yearly exponential increase in online content have the potential to exceed consumer demand, but among all the competition for attention, companies are finding that they have to work harder, and spend more, just to keep their existing audience tuned in — let alone grow their ranks. And, as Mark Schaefer’s “Economics of Content” model revealed, the cost benefits of creating attention-grabbing articles, videos, podcasts, and other materials are simply not in marketers’ favor.

To see any return on investment, your content marketing strategy must build social engagement and social capital. You create this social capital when your community contributes content that allows other members to derive benefit from it, lifting your brand engagement in the process.

Many digital marketers already know how to create slick, engaging content. What they lack are some fundamental practices for growing a community of people who trust and assist each other and collaboratively give back to their brand (i.e., social capital).

Moving forward, our primary goal as content marketers should be to ignite meaningful, brand-adjacent conversations among consumers, contributing to greater mindshare and deeper loyalty. The more your audience generates and shares content of its own, the more sustainable your content marketing strategy becomes.

Here are three strides you can take to reach brand engagement and sustainability in 2014:

Stride 1. Define a compelling and inherently social mission for your company

Traditional content marketing vs. a social, mission-driven strategy: Traditional content marketing strategies target specific buyer personas with content that addresses a problem or need. For example, a financial institution may target its middle-aged members worried about retirement. This persona might wonder: “How do I pay for my kids’ education, eliminate debt, and manage investments so I can retire well?

Traditional content strategy says to become a trusted source for advice on retirement planning by providing useful advice tied to product literature. The problem with this strategy is it keeps you mired in competition with every other financial institution pumping out the same type of content.

To rise above the competition and stay there, incite your community of customers to contribute to the cause together.

  • The traditional content marketing mission is: “To be a trusted source for advice on retirement planning and retiring in style.
  • An inherently social content strategy mission would be: “Saving and planning for life after retirement, together.

Capital One 360 did just this. The financial services company aims to save consumers time and money. Instead of developing a one-way conversation on how to save and invest, Capital One 360 built a Savers Community across multiple social networks. These communities are vibrant with conversations where members share savings ideas with each other. Their “We the Savers” virtual town hall poses challenges and thoughtful questions that spur people to chime in.

be social-sharing buttons

Tip: Take a lesson from crowdfunding: Crowdfunding holds important insights into leveraging a social mission. The most successful campaigns on Kickstarter are those that serve as a collective call to action. For example, Barley & Britches (B&B) surpassed its fundraising goal with this mission statement: “Created out of frustration and refusal to pay for garments that retail at multiple times their manufacturing cost, we decided to do something about it.” The company’s content didn’t talk about chinos; it talked about a frustration we all relate to — and provided consumers with an opportunity to fight back.

everyday chino-B&B

Researchers found that the most successful crowdfunding phraseology is inclusive and taps into social identity. Reciprocity, social proof, a sense of belonging, and social cues from others (such as “likes” on Facebook) are all powerful indicators of a project’s successful funding.

Position your product or service as an enabler for advancing a larger cause. This leads to an inclusive content marketing strategy that your community can contribute to, as the conversation shifts away from your domain of expertise (i.e., your product).

Stride 2. Use participatory, shareable techniques to invite user-generated content

Let the medium be part of the message: In the past, you might have dispensed online advice within your domain of expertise; but in the era of social, companies need to seed their content with provocative conversation starters that emphasize and reward commenting and sharing. This means shifting the form of your message so that content is interactive, and sharing flows organically.

The Pew Research Center recently completed an in-depth report on the behaviors, values and opinions of Millennials. To draw readers into its study, Pew put out a How Millennial Are You? quiz. This gamified content allowed visitors to interact with the study in a personal way, and share their quiz results with friends on social platforms. By packaging its content in a social-friendly format, more people connected with it and commented, essentially providing further research material for the Pew Center.

how millennial are you-the quiz

Be a content curator: A social content marketing strategy might contain smaller amounts of information in the form of interesting infographics that people can post to a Facebook wall. Or a provocative, bite-size idea tied to a hashtag, so people can continue the discussion on Twitter. Your role shifts from creator to curator as you identify a relevant topic and forum, then guide your audience members to fill in the content. And the content they offer has the potential to spark even more ideas and conversations, generating extra value for consumers who support your company and its brands. After all, your customers know all about using your products or services to solve problems to which other customers can relate.

For example, Philips’ Express Yourself Every Day website takes social engagement to another level (Full disclosure: Philips is a client of Adobe). Visitors are encouraged to post their photos, then “try on” different styles of facial hair, allowing them to see how they would look with beards, goatees, or sideburns. The images can be shared on the visitor’s social networks to drive more participation and others in the community can weigh in on members’ new looks.

beard experience-finding right lookOne thing to keep in mind is not to ask big, abstract questions of your community. Instead, focus on specific, relatable topics that people can sink their teeth into.

Stride 3: Turn your contributors into “superfans”

Share your brand reach with your most valuable content contributors: As content contributors make themselves known, you can deliver additional content tailored for them; thus continuously nurturing their interest and, ultimately, transforming the every day fan into a loyal superfan for your brand.

Though consumers do have a lot of power in the social world, your brand likely has much greater reach than any individual member of your community could have. Many of your contributors will want to use the content they create to cultivate their personal brand, and will appreciate your help in expanding their influence. Shine a spotlight on their content, comment on them, and like them.

GHD, or Good Hair Day, a maker of hair-care products sold through salons and other outlets, awards badges to its members for reaching a variety of milestones (Full disclosure: GHD is also a client of Adobe). For instance, the highest badge of honor is the Cover Star, and its recipients get their work featured on the GHD home page. The real reward here is status elevation for the contributor, which they can leverage for their personal brand.


Incentivize contributors by offering real value: Occasional contributors can become regular content generators — when properly incentivized. However, customers aren’t necessarily going to devote a lot of time to writing and sharing quality content for coupons, discount codes, or gimmicks that they can get through other, easier means. Offer them what they can’t get elsewhere: status, influence, or substantial monetary benefits. These are the reasons users consistently post articles and share links on LinkedIn. The platform boosts their own reputation as an expert and leads to greater job opportunities.

What can your brand offer customers that they can’t access on their own? It may be a VIP backstage concert giveaway, or dream getaway. Or it could be a unique and priceless service, like the online health community created by MedHelp. The site connects users with actual medical experts, and other individuals with similar health issues. By engaging in and contributing to the site, users gain greater control over their health. MedHelp puts personal empowerment and improved quality of life for members at the core of its mission.

applications page-medhelp

Build social capital with inherently social content

When you align your content with a compelling mission, you can rally a base that feels passion or duty toward a shared cause. In so doing, you create a vibrant network that accumulates valuable social capital. This enables you to keep your customers and prospects engaged for the long term, giving you a lasting return on your content strategy investments.

Launching a successful content marketing program has never been easier. Download our free workbook and let us take you every step of the way.

Cover image via Bigstock