Content: It’s not just for marketing any more2011-04-06
Realistically, content doesn’t drive customer service, crisis management, reputation management or market research in social media, nor does it drive conversations about customer service, crisis management, reputation, market research or even shopping experiences about a brand in social media. Since these and other key business function are principal building blocks of every successful social media program (for business), you see how an emphasis on content can hobble an organization’s social media program right from the start if its importance is mistakenly overstated…An emphasis on “content” in social media and social communications is simply code for “we think of social media primarily as a marketing channel.”
The quote above is an excerpt from a thoughtful and highly-praised post by Olivier Blanchard, appearing on his Brand Builder blog. The fundamental premise of the post is spot on. It comes down to this: Companies need to think about their online social activities as an enviornment for conducting business, not just channels for pushing stuff.
But it’s wrong to presume that content is useful only for marketing or that content is not at the center of digital customer service, digital crisis management, online reputation management or any of the other activities that, according to Olivier, “require zero content creation, publication or curation.”
I wrote recently that social media is an ecosystem, one that thrives when all the various elements are in balance and in which nothing is “king.” I’d be disingenuous if I wrote in this post that content trumps any other social element. Yet several thoughts plagued me over the couple days since I read Olivier’s post.
First, every definition of content I’ve seen or read or heard in the last couple years covers pretty much everything that gets posted to a website: text, images, audio, video, data, comments, conversation. When strategized in support of business goals, content that do some pretty amazing things besides market a brand, product or service.
Those tweets you see from ComcastCares solving customer problems? Content. It’s searchable. It sends a message to anybody who sees it about the quality of service from Comcast. It may even solve the problem of somebody who didn’t pose the question.
Along those same lines, Home Depot has store employees who specialize in various dimensions of home repair—paint, electrical, plumbing, etc.—responding to customer questions, and sometimes doing it with video. Take a look at some of the responses from to Home Depot’s How-To Community, and Pat in Paint and look in particular at a video or two, like this one:
Pat answers a question submitted via text using video (it is, after all, a visual answer), and the information he provides serves not only the customer who asked but anybody else with the same question. Then, in addition to offering the video in its community, Home Depot uploads it to YouTube, where it gets more use. Is it marketing? In some sense, yes, but primarily it’s customer engagement and knowledge-sharing. The fact that it’s so damn useful gives it inherent marketing value.
There’s virtually no markieting value to Evernote’s podcast; it’s aimed squarely at engaging existing customers with news, information, ideas, and answers to customer questions.
As for Olivier’s assertion that digital crisis management requires zero content creation, publication or curation, I have to ask, “Wha..wha..what?” A company’s status updates during the crisis? Content. Its curation of links to relevant information, both internal and third-party? Content. Its crisis site, whether hosted internally or through a third-party host like PIER? Content. Videos and transcripts of press conferences? Content.
Content, content, content.
Since these efforts are not inventions of marketers—they are distributed with non-marketing goals in mind—the fact that they can be labeled as “content” is incidental. At the heart of these actions are the speed and accuracy of response, a genuine desire to help, the commitment to transparency and disclosure. But the outputs of these values is, after all, at some level, content.
Digging further into Olivier’s list of functions requiring no content, we find activities like research and monitoring, activities that long predate social media. The companies I worked for in the 1970s and 80s did lots of both. Most companies already get this. They get it probably better than how to effectively engage with people.
Again, it’s not that I disagree with the underlying premise of Olivier’s post. He’s dead right: If your organization views social media as a collection of channels for pushing collateral one-way, top-down, your company is missing the point (not to mention the boat). In fact, I probably would have had an easier time with the post if he’d substituted “collateral” for “content.” But content is part of the ecosystem. Without any, you’re dead in the water. And the notion that content is just for marketing?
Content serves a variety of objectives. It’s not just for marketing any more.