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It’s time to apologize. For those of us that were early days in social marketing, our job was to convince brand marketing executives that a low-cost investment in content and community management for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube was a worthy, valuable experiment. Because it was. We successfully proved that social could be an incredibly efficient, cost-effective means of reaching audiences at scale, and brands scrambled to make social media a requirement in every marketing diet.
It’s time to recognize that the initial excitement around the success of social media set off an escalating chain of successive changes that led to the current state of digital marketing – specifically one where brands have the least amount of control over their content, their data and the relationship with consumers compared to any other time in history. While it’s not entirely fair to paint all social platforms with the same brush, the most innovative and popular companies introduced content and advertising products that changed the composition of integrated communications and paid media plans forever. Marketers adapted their objectives and took what Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat gave them, intoxicated by the potential for engagement and lightweight interactions such as likes, hearts and retweets.
It’s time to realize that brands don’t actually own their branded social channels. We’re all just borrowing space and playing by their rules. And social content and marketing, once solid awareness and acquisition plays, forced many of us to stop talking about conversion in favor of conversation. While much has changed, actual business objectives have NOT. Instagram and Pinterest realize this, and are rushing to introduce “buy” buttons and shopping features for their apps. But changing consumer behaviors and convincing them that their data and privacy are secure will not happen overnight.
It’s time to modernize and optimize, acknowledging that the pendulum has swung too far away from brand-hosted and owned content experiences to activations taking place on social channels. It’s time to refocus the conversation amongst brand marketers. It’s time to dust off those old “purchase funnel” slides and remember how to connect the top of the funnel with the bottom of the funnel again. And it’s time for brands to reclaim a greater share of ownership of their content, data and the relationship with consumers that weakened with the rise of social media. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Put your owned assets back at the center of your digital architecture. Bring back compelling, engaging content on your website. Give your fans, target consumers and others a reason to visit your site more often. This can be in the form of lightly-branded editorial content, lifestyle content or even more overtly product-focused content. But getting them there is a huge step in the right direction, especially with most sites now offering ecommerce or some enhanced experience. Brands that have adopted an editorially-focused, hosted content strategy also benefit from record-low CPC rates and algorithmic suppression because the platforms view them as publishing sites, not branded promotions.
- Stop thinking about social and paid media as vehicles for pushing content out. Change back to an objectives-driven approach and start thinking about content as a means of bringing consumers, prospects, advocates and fans back into your conversion funnel. Does this mean social should abandoned? Of course not. But pushing out an overabundance of highly produced content to social channels that serve as a digital dead end is not having the impact on your bottom line that you may think.
- Re-think those partnerships with publishers. Again, this doesn’t mean that co-branded content that is amplified on a publisher’s media network is a complete waste. That reach is important. But how are you measuring it? Brands have less control of their content when it lives on other sites and may often result in readers clicking onto another article or piece of content. It’s just as easy to become your own publisher and create meaningful relevant content without it costing an arm and a leg.
- Re-organize the way you work with influencers. Yes, influencers are great at providing creativity and reach. It’s a 2-for-1 value that many brands find impossible to pass up. They still play a part in the overall marketing ecosystem, but re-orienting the digital marketing framework may mean incentivizing those same influencers to create more content for your owned web site or properties while relying on their reach to send their audience where you want them to go.
- Outsource your content creation. I know, many companies have done just the opposite, and built in-house studios, content teams and production capabilities. But what you may have gained in oversight and control, you’re losing in specialization AND efficiency. There are just too many types of content to consider now that the likelihood that your internal team will be proficient, let alone expert, in the strategic planning and execution of this content is quite low. This includes PDPs, SEO-informed content, email, social posts, blogs, vlogs… Exposure and visibility into how other brands do all of this is what makes agencies remain relevant, viable and valuable. Which leads us to…
- Don’t overextend yourself. It’s never been a harder time for brands to reach distracted consumers with organic marketing, but companies are going too far to become their own media services to reach and communicate with their audience. Brands are creating podcasts, magazines, even books. There may be a time and place for this, but do not lose sight of the bigger picture.
- Optimize your website for conversion. Finally, this is the most obvious and important, yet often the last to be considered, if not the least considered. Invest in optimization methodology, processes and talent. This isn’t something you can or should be doing yourself, either. Partner with experts who truly understand how to A/B test everything, improve on-site content, evaluate the UI/UX, tweak the design and help you better improve upon on that value exchange with a consumer who made it all the way there. Don’t just measure data, but actually extract insights and make ongoing improvements to close the deal.
In an age where digital media platforms are less trustworthy and reliable when it comes to data security, accuracy and transparency, taking greater control over your content and driving consumers back intro environments that you manage and control just makes sense. And the sooner you update your mindset, strategy and approach to content, the less likely it is that you will have anything to apologize for.