Let me wave my magical content wand

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By Tara Hunt

It usually starts something like this:

“Hey! Everyone I know is on Instagram! We should start an Instagram for the company!”

The suggestion in itself isn’t wrong, per se; it’s just not made with much of an understanding of how these social platforms work. It takes less than five minutes to set up an Instagram account (if you have an iPhone or an Android device). That’s the simple part. But then the real work begins.

People who rarely use social networks love platforms … even when they, themselves, admit to not having enough time to use them. That’s pretty much what they see: Platforms and the numbers. “Why aren’t we on Pinterest/Foursquare/Tumblr/Google+/You Tube/Instagram/etc?” they’ll ask. They’ll tell you about all sorts of other companies that have set up multiple accounts on multiple platforms and how they read about it on Mashable. They’ll hint at being concerned about your expertise or ability to execute because you haven’t created accounts everywhere. They may even say, “It takes five minutes to set it up!”

Picking a platform means that you need to create ongoing content for that platform

But what people who don’t use social networks fail to understand is that picking a platform means that you need to create ongoing content for that platform. Content requires a strategy and ongoing production of said content. And monitoring, measuring and tweaking of that content (and strategy). And community management of the inbound reactions to that content, especially if, heaven willing, you do a great job of the content and your account on said platform gets very popular.

All of these things take a lot of time and deep understanding of your audience, your competitors, your product, the overall trends, current events, knowledge of the industry (and surrounding industries), analytics, what are best and worst practices, gathering of ideas, Photoshop skills, camera skills, editing skills, a-good-eye-for-a-shot skills, writing skills, translation skills, people skills and technical skills.

Creating content for a brand (company, organization or individual) is like running a newsroom … but even more complicated because it needs to be interactive. You need to plan out a certain amount of content (ideally daily, and for weeks in advance) for each platform like you would for each segment. Then you also need to be on top of current events and issues to be able to switch it out on the fly to seize opportunities in the moment. You need to keep people entertained and continue to grow with your audience. You need to be relevant and entertaining, but create enough deep engagement that you are building a solid loyalty base.

In addition to this, you need to achieve your own goals through the content. If you are selling something, it’s number of sales leads. If you need sign-ups to your app, you need to drive people to your site (from whichever social network) to sign up. If you are raising money for a cause, you need to compel your followers to go and give money. You must balance building an audience and driving people to your goal (often off-site), and the two are mutually dependent. If your content isn’t entertaining, you’ll lose your audience, and have nobody to build loyalty and long-term sales with. But if you only entertain and never convert them to buyers, you are wasting your time. And the balance is tricky.

Each platform must be approached differently

I haven’t even started to talk about how each platform needs to be approached from a different angle with unique content strategies. Cross-posting content between platforms rarely works. There are different rules. Twitter, for instance, is limited to 140 characters, while blog articles can go more in depth to make a point. There are different tones: Tumblr is fun and casual with a hipster flair for design, while Google+ takes a more information sharing and analytical tone. There are different audiences: Pinterest is dominated by women, while Reddit is male-heavy. There are different functions: Foursquare is great if you have physical locations to promote, while Quora is a fantastic way to show your expertise in an area. Different platforms work better with different media formats: YouTube is all videos, while Instagram is all images. And some platforms are richer than others: Sure, Twitter allows for posting images and video, but the real-time rapidity means you should focus on the text; while Facebook posts thrive with images and other “sharables” and text falls flat.

Content doesn’t just appear out of thin air

All of this is to say: Content doesn’t just appear magically out of thin air with a wave of a magic social-fairy wand. And there have been many of my colleagues beating this drum for years, but their message is more and more prescient over time as every brand is expected to be on practically every platform, but have no idea what that means.

Why they hire interns or outsource to people to create this crucial content that is SUCH a crucial part of their marketing and customer relationships is beyond me. But part of it is education and part of it is the plethora of “gurus, ninjas and polkaroos” who know the buzzwords and how to copycat content, but not how to create relationships. People, you get what you pay for. But why should I be surprised? For as long as I’ve been on this earth, companies have been outsourcing their customer service – the point at which they have their very best opportunity to create a lifelong loyal customer and evangelist – and have focused on new-customer acquisition over the more lucrative current-customer retention and growth opportunities.

What I mean to say is: CONTENT IS IMPORTANT. And there is a specific skill and finesse to doing content well that may seem like magic to most people. It requires left-right-brained people with sharp critical thinking skills. The type of people who have big libraries of books (that they actually read) and are constantly checking their mobile phones for the latest news and world events.

Such people consumes more content in a day than most people consume in a year. They have so much knowledge in their heads from so many different industries and disciplines that they will connect dots you would NEVER think to connect, and sometimes the connection is only clear in their heads (but it is usually innovative). Such people study other people and networks and get giddy when the data uncovers counter-intuitive evidence. Their instincts are sharp even though they can’t fully explain where their ideas come from. This is not a full or completely accurate description of such people. But it’s a start. And such a person really should be internal to your organization.

The thing is, it IS magic, but in the Arthur C. Clarke way: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”. It rarely takes years of school to hone this skill. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science. But it does take years of life* (and some severe ADHD). And most of all, it takes a huge amount of respect …f or the customers, the importance of content, the brand and the media format involved.

There is a magic content wand, but most of the world is filled Muggles, and those of you with the magic should understand that it’s not so simple to describe magic to a Muggle.

(* I by no means mean years as in one has to be older to be good at this. I know lots of 20-somethings who have “the knack.”)

Tara (@missrogue) Hunt is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and marketing consultant living in Montreal. She’s been part of this crazy, social, online world for nearly 20 years and, though she loves watching how it evolves, she also likes to push it in the right direction every now and then.

/// COMMENTS

2 Comments »
  • Coffee with Julie

    January 16, 2013 11:41 am

    Francis, I enjoyed this “screed,” as you called it on twitter! It’s a great rant that echos much of what believe. Problem is, the people reading this blog are likely already those in the “converted” box. The “left-brained people” that Hunt notes as perfect for this role are often considered to be a dime a dozen, with skills that are easily repeatable by any ol’ monkey (replace monkey with new graduate, intern, any other “less than” type in the work world). Nevertheless, I will bookmark this and refer back to it the next time I’m having a particularly frustrating day to soothe myself and my overflowing bookshelves 🙂

  • Who should manage your social media strategy? « Digital Marketing NI Blog

    February 20, 2013 3:35 pm

    […] your new packaging and press releases are only useful to the press. As Tara Hunt mentions in this superb blog, there is no magic content […]

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