There’s a reason why you’ll seldom hear me use the term “social media marketing”: I hate it.
Because to really engage customers and reap the benefits of a strong social media presence, you just can’t think like a marketer. You need to think like a publisher.
Marketers go into an endeavor with the mindset of “what can I get out of this?” Publishers, on the other hand, think more along the lines of “what can I give my audience that’s interesting, relevant, and engaging?”
See the difference?
Next time you’re in the supermarket checkout line, scan through the teasers on the various magazines. (Not counting gossip rags … okay, give the tabloids a peek if you must. I’ll wait … ) Every article you see promoted there is the result of a series of editorial decisions designed to Give the People What They Want. Publishers are continuously asking themselves questions like:
- Which evergreen topics are relevant to our readers? (e.g. parenting, time management, wellness, career)
- What current news topics are on their minds? (e.g. healthcare reform, WikiLeaks, cyber-bullying)
- What seasonal topics are relevant to them? (e.g. fighting winter colds, controlling high summertime cooling bills, back-to-school shopping)
One truly stellar example of the editorial approach to social media is the American Express OPEN Forum, a site dedicated to providing small business owners with the information, the tools, and the connections they need to excel. And no, you don’t need to be a cardmember to access it. Today I clicked on the Technology tab to find the following featured articles:
- “How Sales Has Changed in the Information Age”
- “How One Company Used Video to Reach the Masses”
- “7 E-Commerce Platforms to Help You Grow Your Small Business”
Not one of the above offerings is a thinly veiled AmEx informercial; they’re real articles with real, actionable advice for real business owners.
Now, granted, AmEx has not only the resources to assign a sizable staff to this undertaking, but also the clout to attract big-league content contributors like Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki. But it’s the same approach, just on a much grander scale than you or I are capable of. And while the AmEx logo is featured prominently on each page, the company’s sales pitch is nowhere to be found.
So how can you start thinking like a publisher? Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Know your audience … really, really well. If you haven’t yet invested in some good market research, there’s never been a better time to do so. Go beyond simple demographics and find out all you can about what goes on in your current and potential customers’ heads: the issues they think about, what they do for fun, what brings them (or what you want to bring them) to your doorstep.
- Remember that consistency trumps frequency. There’s nothing sadder than a small business blog showing a flurry of activity the month it was started, followed by … silence. Think realistically about how much time and energy you can commit to delivering content, then make a commitment and stick to it. If all you can manage is one brief blog post a month, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you continuously post relevant, engaging content. Sure, at the outset you’ll come up with a huge list of ideas. Resist the urge to dump out everything at once and instead …
- Set up an editorial calendar. Yes, there will always be last-minute stuff that you’ll want to blog, post, and tweet about, but you need a guidepost to keep the content flowing. Take that treasure trove of initial ideas and spread them out over the next few weeks or months. You’ll save yourself a truckload of “what in the world do I blog about today”-related stress in the process.
- Stay in the know. Once you find out what interests your audience, keep yourself in the loop on those topics. One easy way to do this is to set up a Google Alert with relevant keywords. For example, I’ve set up an alert with the keywords “social media” and “small business,” and each day I receive an email with links to new content that contains those phrases. Google does my research for me, and all I need to do is pluck out the best bits.
Is this a lot of work? Yes, of course it is. But it’s an investment that will pay off as you build the engagement and trust that turns a social media audience into a loyal clientele.