Word Of Mouth Important For PR: Todd Defren Looks Back On PR Blog Week
Employers Look For PR & Social Media Counsel: Lindsay Olson’s Interview On The Global PR Blog Week

Engagement: The Next Step After Content Marketing

Beth Kanter references my post on the engagement relevancy ranking in here case study on Planned Parenthood's use of social media. She also references John Jantsch's blog post Content Creates Engagement. In that post I'd argued in the comment section that Jantsch was missing something in his article, the idea that real engagement comes from direct outreach and monitoring of the community.

In Beth's article she describes how Planned Parenthood has built an infrastructure for content creation based upon monitoring the community.

"Planned Parenthood has built the infrastructure to be successful.  Their online services department is in charge of web site presence, email messaging, and social networking.   They work in collaboration with the communications team.  As Tom Subak mentions, "But something was missing: The intersection of content that we create with what our supporters create. It doesn’t matter whether it is on our web site or somewhere else. There are millions of stories inside of Planned Parenthood – the stories are incredible. We put a human face on our work and what we’re doing. With our stories, we try to figure out how to get more people engaged and change the public’s view. We now have a department called the New Media Content team. Their job is to create, edit, repurpose, identify content across all our channels. Where does this all come together – part of the organization that is thinking about content – in the way that content exists in now. It doesn’t matter where it is or who created. Another thing to is that it doesn’t matter where the content lives – we’ve been creating widgets that can placed anywhere – not just on our site""

In the comment section I suggested companies and organizations follow three strategies when it comes to social media content creation and also direct engagement.

1) Content Marketing: You can create content that is relevant and engages people because it is valuable. Perhaps by providing a how-to, or connecting with some emotionally. The strategy for content development is based upon SEO strategy or your understanding of what valuable in the industry.

2) Content Marketing through social media monitoring: Creating content based upon the monitoring of social media, as you describe in your overview this is what planned parenthood does with its New Media Content team. The team creates, edits, repurposes, identifies content across all our channels. I differentiate this approach from strategy one, because there's a more formal system set up to monitor the community on the web.

3) Social Media Engagement: Engagement occurs when there's a team set up to engage your community on the web about your brand or organization. You answer comments on the community member’s web site; write content about them on your own website. I think there does have to be some context, such as relationship or context within the industry.

I suspect that direct engagement occurs naturally within all three strategies, but what I suggest is that there's a definite choice on the part of companies and organizations about which strategy to follow, as each strategy requires the commitment of resources.

The concepts of inbound marketing and content marketing are relatively new, and both theories focus on the idea that success in social media comes from building the infrastructure to develop a constant stream of content that’s relevant and valuable to your community. Yet I often see little discussion about creating the necessary infrastructure for engagement when discussing content marketing.

I do understand that some companies also conduct engagement as well as following a content marketing strategy, but I think it is really important for companies to understand the value of dialogue to the enterprise. Customers turn to evangelists, customers service, and product marketing.

Marketers are familiar with the concept of creating advertising or campaigns, so the approach of content marketing is an easy next step, especially when you consider that search engine optimization has always been about creating great content. In some ways, the term content marketing is all about SEO. I think if you ask most marketers what their marketing goals are online, they would say lead generation or achieving higher rankings with SEO.

Content marketing put in the context of a marketing department that understands SEO makes absolute sense. This is one reason why the concepts of inbound marketing and content marketing have grown so rapidly, the ideas are not a great leap from existing approaches in SEO and SEM.

Here I'm going to sound rather pompous I am sure, but I've been a blogger since 2003 and the PR and Marketing community five or six years ago was heavily influenced by the cluetrain manifesto and the concept of conversations. PR and marketing bloggers, people who wrote blogs and were involved in the community had come to understand the value of dialogue and conversation as well as content. Look at what the community was writing in 2004 during the Global PR blogging week to understand the focus of the community at the time.

My thinking about how companies use social media has always been put in the context of the practical, how do companies use social media for business, how do they build the necessary infrastructure to be successful? Many of the case studies that convinced me that social media was valuable for an organization described how content creation was a primary reason for starting a blog or other social media technology.

I've discovered the companies that were really successful in social media also put time and effort into direct outreach to their community, and I’ve personally experienced this in my own blogging efforts, here at PR Communications or in the many blogs I've run at the companies I've worked at or helped start with clients over the years. Lastly, the concept of engagement outreach was discussed by the community five years ago in the virtual conference Global PR blogging Week.

I think content marketing can be successful and is a good next step for companies thinking about using social media. The concept makes logical sense to marketers familiar with SEO. And marketers can outsource content development to other writers. Here I think some people in the industry might criticize me for suggesting hiring a writer to create content and posting that content on a blog when the writer is not an employee of the company is unauthentic. Well you'd be right, but I think it also depends how a company represents the content, does the writer have a byline.

By the way, while I'd certainly recommend a content marketing strategy for a company website, I really think a company should not create content within social media by outsourcing that content unless they are transparent about the action. But I'd not going to spend too much time on attempting to police the industry, why? Because the floodgates are already open. The industry would be better off spending time on developing case studies that demonstrate why building engagement outreach infrastructure is the next step after content marketing.

I'd suggest while you might achieve good results from creating content, from higher SEO and some engagement, if you don't build an infrastructure for monitoring the web, discovering brand mentions, and also industry references, and then triaging those opportunities for response and engagement, no matter how big a content development infrastructure you build a company will not be prepared for crisis communications incidents without the infrastructure for successful engagement outreach in the community.

The leaders in the community of social media; Dell, Comcast etc, are not following a content marketing strategy, they are following an engagement and community management strategy. See Charlene Li's and Wet Paint's EngagementDB research and website for more evidence of why the depth of engagement influences results. Certainly start with content marketing, but move to an engagement strategy once you’ve built the case for building the necessary infrastructure.

Really social media engagement and content marketing are all a matter of resources, it’s a lot easier to hire a writer to write content, than it is to hire someone to respond and manage a community, both strategies can be successful, but the question is can you get a better ROI from engagement. I believe so.