Your Brand’s Official Communicators Cannot Do It Alone
In our experience, roughly ninety percent of the posts within most online conversations mention no brand. Instead, most of the posts discuss the category and the motivations that drive people within the category.18
For example, in online conversations about saving for college, more than 90 percent of the conversation mentions no brand whatsoever. Also, in the online conversation about diets, more than 90 percent of the conversation mentions no brand names. In any conversation, you can typically expect that less than 10 percent of the conversation will mention any brand name.
Can your dedicated marketing and communications staff keep up with all of that? Probably not, for two reasons: (1) you can’t produce enough content, and (2) in social media, people—not brands—are the channel.
You Can’t Produce Enough Content
In 2012, author and marketing consultant Mark Schaefer19 wrote:
- Here is the sneaky little secret of content marketing. You don’t need to have the best product or service to win. You don’t need to be the best marketer to win. You don’t even have to create the best content to win. You just need to be first and overwhelming.20
But most brands struggle to keep up. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs, 29 percent of North American marketers surveyed said their biggest content marketing challenge is producing enough content.21 That challenge—up from 20 percent of respondents in 2011—supplanted concern over content quality, which took a big drop from 41 percent of respondents in 2011 to 18 percent in 2012. Overall, the report showed that almost two-thirds of B2B content marketers find it difficult to produce enough content, while about half are still struggling with producing the kind of content that engages.
In Social Media, People Are the Channel
Your employees have connections that your brand does not. Think about the total connections your brand has on all the social networks where you have brand-owned accounts. How many connections does your brand have? Now, think about all of your employees who are active in social media. How many connections do your employees have? And who has more in total: your brand, or your employees?
For nearly every brand, the employees have far more connections online. They always will. Why? Because, in social media, people are the channel, not brands.
Dion Hinchcliffe of Dachis Group said it best in our interview, declaring, “In social media, companies don’t have much social capital. People do.”22
The IBM example on page 11 demonstrates that content in social media is far more effective when it flows through real people—not brand-owned, officially logo’ed, social accounts.
But you can’t just blast your corporate messages through your employees’ social media and expect your audience to engage. In fact, it takes much more than compelling creative, and clever messaging to get your audiences to advocate for you; it’s about relationships, not transactions.
Further, a brand is not a person, and a brand-owned social media account is not the same as a personal social media account. If your content is to be effective, then, when it passes through your employees, it will change in at least the following three ways.
- First, your people will modify the content to fit what they know about their audience, which will be slightly different than what you know about the larger audience that you target.
- Second, they will modify the content’s language or form to make it unique, such that the audience is not overwhelmed by repetition.
- Finally, your people will modify the content to fit their personal style and how they engage their audience.
To understand why, let’s explore the evolution of music.
Your Content Must Change to Fit the People Who Channel It
David Byrne of Talking Heads published a book in 2012 in which he explains that music evolves to fill the space where it is performed.23 In general, writers and performers evolve the style of their music to fit the venues where they usually perform. For example, Byrne explained that the music he wrote that sounded great in the nightclub CBGB didn’t sound quite right when he performed it in Carnegie Hall. In CBGB, the audience yelled, danced, and fell down, and there was very little reverberation in the room. Therefore, the music that sounded best at CBGB was loud, with clear rhythms. When venues like Carnegie Hall came into prominence, audiences were expected to be very quiet, and the room created significant reverberation. Therefore, the music was able to support extreme dynamics; quiet parts could be heard; and the music did not need to be as rhythmic.
Have you noticed that we often refer to different online social properties as venues? And have you noticed that different types of content tend to prevail in each social venue?
In general, the kind of content that works best in these different venues is very different than the kinds of content that worked well in traditional online venues. In social media, the venue makes the content evolve into something that works well within that venue. Just like music evolved to fit each new venue, for as long as music has existed.
Gregorian chants would not be successful in CBGB, and marketer-written, copy-pasted tweets will not work when simply passed through employee social media accounts.
As David Meerman Scott explained in his WebInkNow blog:
- [S]uccess using the different forms of online content is evolutionary to the way the content is consumed. The best content evolves to fill the new media (such as blogs, YouTube videos, Tweets, photo sharing, and the like). Each new way to create content means a new form of content is best suited for the media.24
Of course, the critical difference between social venues and traditional online venues is the fact that people are inherent in the venue. Actually, people are the venue.