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Is Social Media Content Killing Your Business?

by Mark Ivey  |  
March 17, 2011

Quick question: Is your company's social media content engaging? Relevant? Compelling? Do your blogs draw comments and really resonate with your audiences?

If not, your content is holding back your social media efforts---and if it's really weak or misdirected, it could be even be damaging your business.

I've often wondered why most company content is still so weak. After working with many  B2B companies, I've come up with two simple reasons. First, most employees trying to blog aren't writers. Secondly, they don't have time to blog; they're scrambling just to hold down their "day jobs." We've tried to impose our egalitarian pipe dream---that everyone should blog---and it hasn't really worked.

So about three years ago, I began doing the unthinkable (at least if you're a social media purist). I began bringing in writers and editors to help. Turns out the old publishing model (revised for the social media age) works well.

My focus here are motivated bloggers---they can and want to blog but just aren't up to it for the reasons I mention. There's another group of those who can't or won't blog. This might be senior management or top subject matter experts who don't have the time or want to fuss with it. These require a more one-on-one attention and hand-holding approach.

Start out by sitting down with the bloggers and social media manager to understand their goals. Are they trying to build a brand or awareness, drive sales, or something else? Conduct an audit to determine their level of skills. On a scale of 1 to 10, what are their blogging/writing skills? Subject knowledge?

You want to qualify your bloggers if you're just starting. (Only once did I have a blogger outside the United States whose writing was so bad we couldn't use him---but it happens.)

Then you set up your editorial support system. This would include:

  • Basic research and marketing intelligence---Have them start using listening tools like Google Alerts and Radian6 to identify related blogs and conversations, so they're well-versed.

  • Story angles and suggestions---This is where you act as a sounding board and keep them on track with industry discussions. Too many times business bloggers revert back to their comfort zone subjects. In some cases, you might offer high-level outlines to provide suggested angles and structure.

  • Light editing---You're serving as another set of eyes to catch major mistakes or tweak a thought or two. Avoid heavy editing. It's their blog, remember?

There's a lot more but this will get you started. Other support services might include strategies for marketing the blog, along with commenting, and SEO tips and strategies.

You need to develop a framework that will keep the trains rolling, starting with an editorial calendar. Deadlines, schedules, and structure force bloggers to work with you to crank out copy systematically. You might set a schedule for starters of simply one blog per blogger per week, and build from there. I'd suggest an editorial meeting weekly initially, and then bimonthly as you develop a cadence.

The goal is to provide your social media types with the framework and resources that make it easier to blog, tweet, and so on---and do it well. But you don't want to lose their "voice" in the process; that's the trick.

One caveat: I've worked on these programs for several companies, and it's never fast or cheap. You'll have to balance this against budgets and resources, and figure out how to make the program scale.

You should be able to slash the blogger's invested time at least 50% with a publishing model, with your editors picking up the slack. Do it right, and you'll get a steadier flow of higher-quality content at a consistent cost. You'll also sleep better at night knowing you're not just throwing content over the wall.

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Mark Ivey is a consultant and vice-president with the ION Group, a marketing communications company specializing in social media strategy. He helps companies tell their stories and connect with their key audiences in the new interactive online world. He shows them how to use a blend of social media and traditional marketing and PR tools to build communities, develop thought leadership platforms and promote their brands.

Mark brings a unique multi-dimensional perspective based on 20 years of industry experience spanning journalism, marketing, PR, media and executive communications. He worked as a writer and bureau chief for BusinessWeek magazine for almost a decade and in the late 90s served as a consumer media spokesman for Intel, part of a unique national education program he developed for families--Intel's first "human brand" program. He's a published author (Random House) and former nationally syndicated newspaper columnist who has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows.

The ION Group specializes in digital marketing and communications consulting services, along with building interactive websites, blogs and other social media platforms. The company is based in San Jose, and primarily works with Fortune 500 companies in Silicon Valley.

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  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Mar 17, 2011 via blog

    Good structure here, Mark, especially for organizations that have several employees. For smaller businesses and nonprofits, social media managers wear multiple hats. No matter which way you slice it, they are simply overloaded and underfunded.

  • by Mark Ivey Thu Mar 17, 2011 via blog

    Elaine-good point. I've worked with many smaller companies and were lucky if they even had a social media manager (often just a marketing manager). Wondering if some might be able to afford part time editorial help on a contractor basis to at least provide some of this support? (yes, varies by company)

  • by Trish Thu Mar 17, 2011 via blog

    There's no doubt that content is king and to be able to continue reigning happily and productively it's important to have some framework and resources in place to make that job a little easier. You've given folks some great tips. Thanks for including us.

    Trish (@Dayngr)
    Community Manager | Radian6

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Mar 17, 2011 via blog

    It's a great idea, Mark, even if there's only a small budget to begin with. Otherwise, lousy content can damage the brand.

  • by Laine Thu Mar 17, 2011 via blog

    Great article, Mark. I've been trying to find a way to get my article writers and bloggers to be more creative and infuse more relevant ideas in their work. I know their job can get really boring, and they tend to get lazy about research. Your tips can make things easier for all of us.

  • by Mark Ivey Fri Mar 18, 2011 via blog

    Laine-glad it was useful. I think every company is facing a similar issue, and if anything, the need for original, creative and compelling writing is stronger than ever. I've worked with writers of all stripes and teams of writers, and know the challenges you face. How we manage this as communicators will go a long way in shaping our success in this arena. Good luck with your program.

  • by steve barbarich Sat Mar 19, 2011 via blog

    I believe that if a company really needs to outsource for a social media content writer they must make the writer aware of what he is writing about. Bad articles will not only depreciate your traffic but it will also decrease your customers. Write what you know and only if you really know it. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • by Ann Handley Mon Mar 21, 2011 via blog

    Good advice, Mark.

    Companies might also take a page from Kodak's social media book and provide bloggers with a kind of blog template to function as "training wheels" for new bloggers. It can help alleviate that fear of the blank page (who hasn't felt that?)

    As part of our book "Content Rules," we offer a blog template based on Kodak's. It's available for free here:

  • by mark ivey Mon Mar 21, 2011 via blog

    Ann- Excellent idea; the template can be part of ongoing training sessions, and made available on your internal website or sharepoint in some cases. This is a little like Toastmasters (which has its own support system/training wheels for new speakers), but in this case we're trying to help them get over the fear of the blank page (vs the podium).

  • by Ann Handley Mon Mar 21, 2011 via blog

    Exactly. Or the fear of expression, of any kind! ; )

  • by Chris Dale Fri Mar 25, 2011 via blog

    Excellent points here Mark. I face this challenge regularly with clients when I recommend Blogging as part of their future marketing strategies. It's fine for me to recommend, but if there execution falls short then it can do more harm that good. Your framework is a great suggestion.

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