In my mind, successful "social media" strategy lives at the intersection of the information needs of the social audiences you can grow, obtain and nurture, the content you can create or curate for them, and the right choice of social platforms that you use to deliver your message.
These intersections happen in minute slices of time -- those seconds when the user was browsing for content when that social network happens to deliver them your content in their social stream.
But the desire to create more of these intersections happen has made the challenges of creating that content more daunting than ever.
When I wrote early last year about the "Fragmentation of Social Networks," and shared some of these thoughts at Social Fresh East last year, I saw the industry already starting to change course.
In short, trends from that time seemed to dictate mostly that the information needs and user experiences of social content were changing for many end users, and audiences were starting to move from big "shopping malls" of content to "boutique shops," focusing on destinations and brands that would deliver what they wanted.
The destinations of these "social intersections" were starting to move from the familiar to the less familiar in terms of networks.
Visual Social Strategy
Later in July 2012, I spoke at the Ad Age Small Agency Summit and shared how the first beginnings of social media strategies for visual networks had started to appear.
With the explosive growth of Instagram, Pinterest and changes to Facebook's display of photographs in the timeline, the die was being cast -- visual assets had to be a part of the mix. Early adopter brands had started to figure out how to use their vast content stores in effective ways, and test the waters outside of what they knew best.
Content Strategy Takes a Back Seat
At this point, the reality for many brands was with limited resources, deeply thought out content strategy were still a secondary concern.
It was more often about "keeping the lights on" and getting as much content out as possible, with quality often taking a backseat to speed.
After all, in many cases, posting more often just lead to more opportunities for engagement, with limited penalties (unlikes, unfollows) for too much content, since such a small percentage of your audience was interacting anyway.
Then spawned what I've dubbed the "Great EdgeRank Crisis of 2012," which in a split second, made brands re-evaluate their content strategies (and, often, establish a content strategy for the first time), and the people behind sourcing the content that would run.
The loss of the access to large parts of the audience brands thought they had built, through good content and effective community management, and often through spending money on advertising, was frustrating to many. Instead of living in the periphery through networks that, in theory, brands could ignore, the content strategy question spawned its head right in the belly of the beast -- on Facebook itself.
The lesson in a nutshell: your Facebook content needed to be better than ever to avoid negative feedback, or it would run a much bigger risk of never being seen by the people you want to reach, and even more concerning, first level friends of those people who could be coerced to build a relationship with you.
Content Must Be Awesome
For an organization with a reasonably large fan base (both offline and online) and a desire to be active on social media -- now likely having to at least consider and understand the inherent content challenges for having presences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ -- the goal became crystal clear.
Your content had to be more than occasionally entertaining -- you had to be entertaining, or relevant just about every time out of the box, and the penalty for going too far for the first time was a legitimate concern. And it had to be right for the platform it was on.
This really required a new way of thinking.
Ian Schafer of Deep Focus described this way of thinking in an excellent AdAge piece called, "Why It's Time Your Brand Invested in a Creative Newsroom," where he suggests that:
The best content is not what surfaces most often through search results, but what travels most often between people... When we look at the success of content these days, there is often an inverse relationship between how good it is vs. how much we had to pay for people to actually see it.
I couldn't agree more.
The Content Newsroom
The newsroom approach is probably the best analogy I've heard so far about this new way of thinking. An independent content strategy for each platform has started to become part of the content strategy for the brand. With new platforms, the approach used to be, "let's develop a strategy for ____."
What this left many brands with was bits and pieces that lived in multiple places, and often in multiple people, and a bolt-on approach which didn't really meet the objectives of the brand.
Now, the fragments of platform specific strategy are being pulled together into a cohesive overall one.
They have to be.
It's too expensive to fragment limited people. To borrow the newsroom analogy again, let's take the late evening news, as an example. While the weather, sports and business report have been produced by different people, the end broadcast is the product people rely on and tune in for.
They expect a package product for their information needs. Someone needs to pull this altogether to make sure while they are proficient in answering the specific needs of that audience, the overall show feels complete.
This is why I think your social media team will have (if it doesn't have one already) a dedicated content strategist. I think it's time to spin out this role into its own speciality and recognize the unique skill sets it requires, if for no other reason than the time and complexity involved in creating and distributing "good content."
This role has to answer these questions:
1. What, when and where?
Simply put, this is the rapidity and frequency of content you share, what, when and where. Most social media teams bake this into a content calendar, but with the fact that each platform has very specific content needs, this is more of a challenge than ever.
2. What content is fair game?
Rights and clearances will be one of the, if not the biggest challenge in this new normal. Being tight with your legal term and understanding the minutia of content use, licensing, fair use and reuse is often one of the most time-consuming parts of the job. Good example: Often content will be licensed for "editorial use," but the question of if social media is considered a part of "editorial use" often depends from vendor to vendor and even contract to contract. And, of course, the question of "curation" applies here.
3. Who will create our content?
With the growth in visual content, having people who are skilled in graphic design, photography, video and other digital content tools (hello, animated GIFs) mixed with those who can create the written word and expects in social media culture will result in the most success.
4. How do we keep it relevant?
As we all know, social media is real-time, and heavily influenced by pop culture and breaking news. The time to create relevant content is short, and when you involve heavier digital creative, it gets even shorter, given the time involved in making this content.
5. What's working and what isn't?
The real-time content flow needs to be evaluated nearly real-time. The pressure to produce content that works has never been higher, and it's more necessary than ever to "fail fast," because the next shot at your audience is often just minutes or hours away.
The good news is that a content strategist often already lives within because they've probably been playing some part of this role as a social strategist, social marketing manager or community manager.
It's just time to recognize them for what they are -- the people who will take on the fight to develop good content for your social audiences. And if you have one of these folks on your team already, and are doing all of the above, congratulations!
Give them a hi-five or a hug, and keep them happy. They will be a very key part of your social business for a long time to come.