Social Media: The Place to Engage
There are definite approaches to ensuring that your content is highly engaging and "goes viral," says Aaron Dun, VP of marketing and strategy at Percussion Software, Inc., a content management company that provides a visual, graphic interface. "Certainly single-topic threads make it easier for people to comment and share that content within their own networks, and how-to's usually perform very well. But the biggest thing is to be sure your site encourages engagement and your authors engage directly."
Harnessing the power of Web 2.0 and social media is critical to engagement. Just as important is making sure that readers see the results of their input. Dun emphasizes the importance of feedback: "Visitors should know that comments are encouraged and responded to, tweets are seen and responded to, as well as other off-site discussions on Google+ or Facebook. If the content is all one-way, many visitors are hesitant to be the first to engage in the discussion."
The website, to Dun, is no longer the holy grail of engaging readers. "We are just as happy if they convert at the edge. If we can have them sign up on Facebook for an event, we are just as happy with that."
The next piece of the content puzzle is organizational readiness. Kottcamp acknowledges that a large piece of his work with clients covers questions such as who will run the CMS, who will approve the content, and who will add to it and manage it? A major piece of the work being done inside every organization is the taxonomy of the content. Companies need a workflow regarding who will tag the content, so it can be served correctly.
Dun believes that a problem facing companies today is having enough people inside an organization who are empowered to add content: "The number of people who can contribute at companies is small because the processes and interfaces are difficult." He believes Percussion has simplified this process to break the bottleneck in content creation. "You can create a deeply engaging and personalized experience on a page because you know so much about the user, but if it's blank, you miss the opportunity," he adds.
Beyond content creation, a second workflow and set of tasks cover just the analytics. What kinds of analytics will be measured and how they will determine what content is shown requires "a whole strategy for tagging for all the analytics," cautions Kottcamp. A part of the organization needs to be ready to monitor and manage the instructions given to tools, including those from Webtrends, Inc.; Omniture; and Optify, Inc. that bring in data. Kottcamp explains that someone needs to think about what kinds of metrics are being used to measure engagement, answering questions such as, "Was this form completed? Was this video viewed all the way through? Was this white paper downloaded? ... Someone has to put explicit tags on what they want to measure."
Hence, for most enterprises, being judicious in forming a strategy requires some sophisticated data mining. Amanda Hinkle, senior digital marketing strategist at StrongMail Systems, Inc., an online advertising company, admits, "This is one area where [publishers] are really struggling. They are sitting on top of all this [user] information and are asking, ‘What are we going to do with it?'"
Dun believes that it is best to think of the reader in terms of industry segments and topics and to allow the content delivered to cut across all the channels available to the publication. He fears that publications take a "siloed view of content: The blog is a silo, the website is a silo, SlideShare is a silo, Google+ is a silo, the iPad is a silo. Now, we want to take a theme that cuts across all the silos," says Dun.
John Wallace, senior editor at Laser Focus World, a PennWell Corp. publication, offers this advice: "Know your audience and write like you know your audience. Don't write an article for professionals as if you're reviewing types of yoga classes, and don't write about yoga classes as if you're ... well, you understand." Wallace also believes that publications need to work across the silos and to explore other media: "Expand your channels. Think beyond articles and posts to video and webcasts. Your audience will appreciate the chance to explore a topic of high interest more deeply."
Lee Carrion, the owner of Coveside Crabs, a fishery and seller of premium crabs along the coast of Maryland, primarily uses a Facebook presence for her digital marketing. Shy to post at first, she creates a social media ethos that echoes that of Wallace. It is this: "Write what you know. Write what you do." Her target audience began with her daughter's advice to reach out to her high school class at an upscale private girls' school in the D.C. area. This was the perfect target for her business, and her tone is utterly authentic, without a brush of pretense. She explains that the company doesn't need to sell a large volume: "We have no equal. We put back the majority of the catch that doesn't meet our quality standards."
Insights, the analytics program for businesses on Facebook, allows Carrion to see what results she is getting. During recent weeks when there were no fishing stories to share, Carrion says, "I was crashing, and then I started posting ‘Lucky Ducky,'" stories about a duck that was sitting on eggs around the corner from her house. Then, Carrion's numbers started rebounding. In that week, she realized that 107 people were talking about her posts, 760 people were reached directly, and the number of people who were friends with friends of Coveside Crabs was 177,084. Happy with her results, Carrion enthused, "Sometimes people drive a couple of hours just to buy our crabs, and they obviously pass a lot of places to buy crabs."
Going a step further, social media can be optimized to work even better. Hinkle, of StrongMail, touts the company's social media tool that measures which followers are helping with engagement: "We have the ability to see who makes conversions happen." With StrongMail, you can see which of your followers are actually having the most influence to convert their followers. "So, if someone is a big influencer, then we can send them incentives," adds Hinkle.
All of this advice has one thing in common: Content experts agree that knowing your customer is the best way to engage your audience. Whether you're the one creating the content, selling the content, or delivering the content, you need to know whom you are catering to. Yes, there are tools to help you with this, but it's up to you to create the kind of content that keeps your readers coming back.
StrongMail Systems, Inc.