Social media vs Content marketing – death match or siamese twins?
They are in fact flip sides of the same coin – the ever falling cost of creating media. Both speaks of media, that can be produced by everyone, and is distributed by everyone. These two terms can however also capture a distinction in approach to people powered media. How so?
Let me explain. Please note that for the sake of clarity, I am going to generalise. The distinction between different forms of media has never been absolutely clear cut. And the distinctions are even less so now. But here goes my slightly provocative polemic.
- First, they both have something important in common. They are increasingly distributed and shared by the public at large.
But they differ in important respects:
- Social media is built around relationships.
- Content marketing is built around communication that has substance, significance and meaning to a wide audience – (content for lack of a better word).
- Because social media is built on relationships, meritocracy is not that important. Your mom is your mom, even if she is a bad mom. Most people seek out people that are similar to themselves. You are often friends with a person because of proximity (you worked together), and they liked you. Not because they are pure genius. You share the stuff of friends, not always because they are great, but because they are your friends. And everybody tends to have friends.
- Because content marketing is built on content, and because there’s so much of it, we seek out better content. And we look to share the best content. The result is that it is kind of meritocratic (or money is poured into making it so). The most interesting Twitter users get the most followers (unless they have been manufactured by main stream media – think Britney). While everybody has friends, not everybody has something interesting to say. Content marketing is a more exclusive club.
- Because social media is built on reciprocal relationships they are per definition two way connections. This is the world of conversations.
- Content marketing is often not two way. It is more often one to many.
- As a result of the two way relationships, social media often involves communities. These are very human warm fuzzy, messy and authentic places.
- Content marketing has audiences, or audiences with audiences. Often members of audiences don’t know each other at all.
- Communities don’t scale very well. The bigger they are the less of a community and the more noise. Which is why so many social media gurus (like Robert Scoble) suddenly realised they were doing Twitter wrong. He unfollowed thousands. He could not see through the noise.
- Audiences scale amazingly well. They are not cozy villages however. See Gina Trapini’s excelent post on the flip and down side of a big audience.
How to make sense of all this?
Don’t believe all the social media dogma. Like the ridiculous one that was so big until quite recently amongst the likes of gurus like Chris Brogan: Following somebody back when they follow you as a matter of course.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think its pretty obvious that the continuous drop in the cost of publishing – the democratisation of media, is revolutionary. But we don’t think that the basic rules of media or how people behave have changed. It’s just that the rules now apply to everybody – because we all can be media.
That means, for example, that attention remains finite. And it is silly to pretend you can meaningfully follow 20,000 people. That means also means that Stephen Frye might be a person, but he is also a broadcaster.
But what does this mean for organisations in practise?
In most instances, what companies and organisations should do when using media for getting their message out and building brand (note – a very specific part of just marketing), is the ‘content’ bit of ‘social’. It fits their goals much better. Most companies want to achieve some kind of scale – an audience and not a community. While keeping down their costs.
You often hear social media consultants say to companies, just join this or that service, use that tool. Bob won’t be your uncle. That might be fine for Joe Blogs who has 130 friends and no need to communicate at scale.
Companies and organisations tend to want to excel and stand out. Create a brand. The only way to do this (besides the obvious one of having a great product) is to produce quality content that’s remarkable. And that is very hard. It requires a combination of talent and graft. Companies need to hire people that understand how to create good content. They need to hire journalists, media smart programmers, film makers – not only marketeers, spotty back room script kiddies, or even community managers.
Unfortunately doing things at scale cause more noise (See Gina’s post above). Many blogs have started to switch off their comments. (I’m not necessarily suggesting you do that). But look at hyper successful Burberry and what they do on their Facebook page. They never reply to customers. They are broadcasting (image below via eConsultancy).
To reiterate – I am not saying that relationships and two way interaction with your audience is of no import, even when getting your message out. It has always been. Just look at how much radio has made use of the phone-ins over the years. And now this interaction with an audience is even easier.
So depending of the company, the brand they are trying to project (aloof, part of the crowd), and their size, the answer to how one-to-one a company should be, will vary.
And social media still has a direct roll in other sphere’s of the company operations. For market research social media is gold dust. It has a massive roll to play in informing product development. Creating forums where customers can help themselves is yet another example where social is king.
It’s earned media, that’s earned through blood sweat and tears
AND it’s hard to do content marketing itself well, without listening what’s going on at the coal face of social media – because that’s where it will be distributed. AND even when creating content, you can harness the power of the crowd. (See our logo and logo crowd sourcing experiment).
So this is actually not an argument against social media per se. But it is an argument for a shift in emphasis in your social efforts to take it far more seriously. A few Tweets, status updates and a few replies won’t cut it.
Bottom-line: There are many more media channels today, and they vary tremendously in size. And so the scope of these media channels for behaving as broadcasters (Stephen Frye) or conversationalists (The Hackney Gazette) vary greatly too.
But really, if your serious about communicating far and wide, you know which one you want to be.
Wessel van Rensburg is founder of RAAK social media.