The hardest part about using social media to market is the constant demand for new content. There is a never-ending demand for something new. (At Comedy Central, we used to call it “feeding the beast.”) And you can’t just acquire your way out of it—too much of other people’s content makes you look voiceless, and wandering sheep-like after other people. You have to have a point of view about your industry, and you have to demonstrate that you understand the buyers’ problems. Reposting generic business content will do nothing for you—in honesty, mediocre social media is worse than doing nothing. At least when you abstain from social media, you can redeploy those resources to something that MIGHT get a response. Like wearing a sandwich board around the city center. But mediocre social media will do nothing for your brand.
That being said, you don’t have to start your journey with a 24-7 newsfeed of original thought. You, and everyone else in the world, have the right to aggregate other people’s content. This is a slightly dangerous tactic, as it’s possible to put in a lot of work and not be distinctive, but under the right circumstances, with the right focus, it’s a great way to build audience while you’re preparing to create original content.
This is based on something I understood back in the 1990’s when I was selling US TV shows around the world and refer to as Blake’s Law of Television Channel Development. It goes like this:
All TV channels go through three phases of development: Phase 1 is when they acquire everything, and have no original content. (Lots of reruns of old sitcoms.) Phase 2 is when they create a few original flagship programs. (Lots of reruns of old sitcoms, but The Daily Show and South Park in prime time.) Phase 3 is when they produce mostly original content, and have a few distinctive acquisitions. (Mostly original, with a few beloved imports like The Office (UK).) There is no Phase 4.
This can be adapted to just about any media play. For example, the main US and EU broadcast networks have been in Phase 3 for years—it’s almost all original content. It may be produced by studios, but it’s produced at the behest of the channel.
Netflix is at Phase 2—House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are on the front page of the annual report, but the majority of traffic is made up of people streaming acquisitions like 30 Rock and Cheers.
New market entrants start at Phase 1—they have space on the dial, but not much else, so they buy in programming originally produced for other people (e.g., retweeting popular things from Business Insider and Huffington Post).
So if you are just starting out, you are in Phase 1. You need to get content from other places. In a world of infinite content, that isn’t hard. But in a world of infinite content, you had better be doing something interesting to that content if you want people to pay attention to you. At the beginning, nobody cares about your stupid little startup and nobody cares about your stupid little Twitter feed. So your first step remains the same—pick a market where you can be distinctive. Own one word. Identify where your brand is, and what if any emotions it evokes. Identify what you want people to feel and how you can get there. Then you can start with a few easy tactics:
- Beginner Tactic: Industry curation. One of the most powerful features of social media (and the entire point of Pinterest) is to aggregate a bunch of stuff you found somewhere else. This goes back to the Carnivals and Roundups of the early days of blogging. The formal term for this is curation, but it’s no more complicated than putting together a playlist on Spotify—here’s stuff I like that goes together. The ability to do this is open to anyone, so you have to be clever about your angle—it’s not about aggregating “Education News”, it’s about aggregating “News of interest to staff at single-sex Catholic High Schools.” The general categories are all very well spoken for, but you should be able to identify an underserved niche among your buyers. This works well for Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, but not for blogs any more.
- Beginner Tactic: User-generated curation. Be the party that rounds up all the user-generated content in your space. This is a bit more challenging and labor-intensive, but can have a big emotional payoff. The best place to start with this is two existing conventions for photos: Throwback Thursday and Selfie Sunday. Maersk has done a tremendous job of leveraging its rich history into a popular Instagram feed, simply by harvesting its archive of historical photos. It turns the freight-forwarding world, which is about shipping identical containers on enormous industrial ships with underpaid third-world labor for the lowest possible price into a romantic world of adventure and travel. @HistoryinPics has over a million people following their Twitter feed of old photos. You can do the same with photos you own, or even better, photos that other people have posted. Go back to that one word you own. Where are there photos that show that word throughout history? Where are the photos of the old equipment people used to do the job back in the day? A Pinterest board is easy to do (and avoids any difficulty around rights to the image), but a creative commons search on flickr will go a long way as well. By appointing yourself steward of the industry’s history, you have the right to start building an audience even before you’re putting out high-end original content. Supplement it with a few original pieces and you’re in Phase 2.The same tactic goes for #selfiesunday. Who’s taking pictures of themselves with the icons of your industry—the equipment, the clothing, the uniforms that your community cares about? Aggregating them in one place creates an asset that grows in value, but also attracts the people who are in the pictures. (Again, Pinterest is the place to start for this, but Twitter can be equally useful. It all depends on how people behave in your industry.)
- Advanced tactic: Adapting from other industries. This takes a bit more work, but is more likely to make you unique. Pick a broad general skill (e.g., SEO, Storytelling, Finance) and show how it adapts to your own industry. Harvard Business Review may not be writing original content about the pool filter industry, but by taking their content and showing specifically how this applies to the pool filter industry, you show you’re a smart outfit that reads the good stuff AND you understand your industry. It takes a little work, but can set you apart before you have the chance to start doing original work.
The explosion in supply of content has created a real filter problem—no one can keep up on everything, so they turn to trusted sources to filter it for them. If you can play that role in your industry, and get people turning to you for what they need to know, you’re halfway to the shortlist already.
Photo Credit: Flickr
Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.
Adrian Blake. Strategy. Social Media.