Speak the words 'social media' and many newcomers envisage staple sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
But did you know content can also be social? In this guide, we'll explain why this important facet of online marketing is often unfairly lumped in solely with SEO (search engine optimisation) and offer guidance on how best to incorporate the content your produce into your social networking efforts.
Content can be defined as any textual or multimedia items you put on your website, social profiles or third-party sites. For a long time, the term was synonymous with 'words on a page' but as connection speeds grew and computing devices became more ubiquitous – it increasingly encompassed graphical, audio, video and interactive pieces.
Creating content that attracts relevant users has long stood as a pillar of any good online marketing campaign and in terms of SEO value, it rivals hyperlinks as one of the most important signals search engines pay attention to.
However, while a great deal of businesses are keen to jump on the social media bandwagon, for too many – there's an arbitrary dividing line drawn between what they put on their own site and what they post on social networks.
This view can lead newcomers to approach each task in isolation, or worse still, focus solely on one at the expense of the other.
So why are content and social best used in tandem? To get to grips with this question, it's well worth discussing the rationale behind each.
Social: The true value of social media marketing lies in allowing businesses to research, reach out, connect and most importantly engage with a relevant community of potential customers. It offers firms an unprecedented ability to answer questions, monitor and respond to chatter about themselves, as well as build relationships that go beyond the transactional.
Content: As Google states, the best way to improve your site's search engine visibility is to create a website that users will want to visit and share. Search engines pay attention to the way that real people interact with the web and the most effective way to manipulate this behaviour to your advantage is to become popular amongst your target audience.
And the easiest way to do this? Give them stuff they'll find useful, interesting or valuable (e.g. content).
The advantages of combining your content and social efforts, and indeed approaching all of your online marketing efforts in a holistic manner, are many and varied. But some of the most commonly-cited include:
- Promoting your on-site content via social channels gives your followers and potential customers a reason to visit your site, and can have the knock-on effect of creating user data that reflects positively on your site in the eyes of search engines.
- Social channels, like Twitter for instance, are often limited in terms of what you can share, word count and format.
- Social posts with links enjoy better engagement and interactions.
- There's a strong correlation between business that perform well on social channels and those that perform well in search.
- While likes, shares and followers are nice to have, they're virtually worthless if you're not making use of them properly.
- Researching your target audiences social behaviour gives invaluable insights into what they're interested in – letting your tailor content and aim it at the right people at the right time.
Sadly, too many businesses take up social and/or content simply as a way of keeping up with the Joneses of their particular industry. And while you've got to be in it to win it, simply participating is no guarantee of success.
If you approach these new, interactive, digital channels as an extension of traditional, analog ones – not only will you be wasting time and resources, but you could actively harm your search performance.
Put it this way, which are you more likely to engage with?
"We're a fantastic company, click here and find out about our products and services."
"We've made this thing that you'll find really useful, click here to check it out."
The bottom line is that social media shouldn't be considered as an advertising platform or vehicle for company news and if you treat it as such, expect lukewarm results at best.
There's often an emphasis on the exciting potential of online marketing, its superiority to traditional techniques and high-profile successes in the field, so it's easy to see why newcomers often fail to appreciate the reams of research, trial and error, and hard graft that goes into making it work.
So now we've hopefully established that it's crucial to marry your content and social efforts, what are the best ways of going about this?
Re-use and recycle: Creating content can be a slog, so make sure you're putting stuff you're already producing to good use. For example, if you've put together a press release on some exciting company news or a milestone you've reached – why not re-write it as a blog and post it on your site?
I'd always shy away from simply copy and pasting the press release, however, as (if done correctly) this format is geared towards enabling journalists to pull out the salient points as efficiently as possible and as such, won't be as engaging to your average reader.
Similarly, if you've put together a briefing on something for customers/clients or simply for internal use – with a few tweaks, it can often serve as blog content. And the opposite is often also true – so don't be afraid to re-use your online content as fodder for emailers or physical assets (like leaflets, brochures, company newsletters, et cetera).
Write it up: Attending an event? Write up where you went, why you went there, who spoke and what you learned.
Got something to say about something in the news? Don't keep it to yourself. It doesn't have to be War and Peace – just provide some insightful commentary or predictions and get it online. If you manage to react quickly to breaking news, you'll often see more interest in what you have to say.
Been featured in some coverage? Don't just share the article or re-post it in its entirety on your site. Do a brief write up on your news/blog section, include a quote and then link through to the full piece.
Share it, responsibly: 'Content is fire and social media is gasoline' – so you should definitely be sharing your on-site content. However, be sure to obey the 80/20 rule and balance out any self-promotion with at least three times as much non-promotional, genuinely interesting content. Of course, this is easier said than done and finding the time to do this properly is a struggle that even the pros face.
Curate: Engaging third-party content that's relevant to your target audiences should be the staple of your social media shares. By establishing yourself as a conduit for interesting news, when the time comes to share your own stuff, you're much more likely to see engagement.
Enable comments and ask questions: Comments can be hard to come by, but if you don't ask – you don't get. Be sure to flank your on-site news and blog posts with a call to action that asks for the reader's thoughts, either by a comment on the post itself or via your social profile (and be sure to include links).
Don't hide your social profiles under a bush: If you're going social – go all in. This means promoting your profiles on your site. Too many times I've seen companies hide away social profiles they put a great deal of effort into on the 'contact us' page or some other neglected corner of their website.
Display buttons that link to your social media profiles proudly and if possible, make them a feature of your footer/header menus. You might also want to include a homepage feed of your social activity - encouraging visitors that reach your site through other means to engage with you on external channels.
Utilise social sharing buttons on your blog: Gaining a social share for your content isn't easy, but you can facilitate the process by making it as simple as possible for readers to do so. One easy step is to enable social sharing buttons (that generate an automatic post on the user's network of choice, rather than linking directly to your profile) on your blog.
However, I recommend you turn share counters (that detail the amount of times a certain piece of content has been shared on each network) off – as it can often be embarrassing if the majority of these read 'zero'.
While the above should serve as a starter for 10, there's reams of ways to combine content and social to exemplary effect. So if you've got any advice to share, or want to ask any specific questions – be sure to leave us a comment below or fire us a tweet.
And if you're looking for further advice on content, social or any aspect of online marketing – be sure to check out our free eBook guide for SMEs below:
Images used courtesy of Nemo on PixaBay, Yoel-Ben Abraham on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons