Social Media Strategy: Content

What to talk about with people on the social web. This is part of our series about our social media strategy framework.

This article is part of a series about our social media strategy framework.

After we find out as much as possible about the people we want to communicate with in our social media strategy, it’s time to define the content of the conversation we want to have with them.

Act & React – The basic principles of good conversation

The core principle of every conversation is acting and reacting, saying something and replying to something. As having a conversation is at the heart of social media, this also needs to be the starting point for a content strategy. A company has to define what topics it wants to talk about and what it can add to a conversation about them. But like a good participant in a conversation, it should also react to questions, feedback and discussions.

It’s like being part of a conversation at a cocktail party. A group of people is standing together and chatting. A person joins the group. Now, the conversation would be instantly over if that person were to jump right into the middle and shout

“Hey, look at me! I’m so shiny and cool! Let’s all talk about me, ok? Of course I want to hear criticism. But when I’m done here, I’m gonna walk over to that group over there and only mention all the positive stuff you said about me, even if it is out of context. By the way, if you whisper my name to the bartender, he will give you a fancy keychain with my name on it so you don’t forget about me.”

No. A good participant in a conversation will be polite and first listen in to get the topic and the tonality of the conversation. She will introduce herself to give people some context but won’t pitch or boast about herself. She will offer some ideas and suggestions to the current topic without hijacking the conversation. When the time is right, she will offer a new topic that she thinks is interesting to the round, based on the conversations before. She will answer questions directed at her in clear words and listen to any suggestions and feedback attentively. People simply enjoy the conversation with her. They feel like they’ve taken something away from the conversation and were able to offer some suggestions that have been heard. This, in my humble opinion, is how companies should behave on the social web.

Campaigns vs. continuous streams

A key insight for developing a content strategy for the social web is this classic insight by Ben Malbon:

Brands must make a dramatic shift from highly polished epic launches to a continuous and diverse stream of messaging and content.

There are still way too many examples out there of brands simply applying their usual communication patterns to social media. The results are highly polished social media campaigns that produce very little in the way of lasting results. They disregard the unique dynamics of social media like the network growth effect (exponential growth means that a campaign is usually already over before it can gain real momentum on the social web).
We believe that a company or brand that wants to participate in the social web needs a good mix of continuous conversation and engaging action. Here’s how we approach a strategy for this mix.

The 3-layer-model

To define the mix, we have been working with a simple model, consisting of three layers: Grundrauschen (German for ambient noise), added value and campaigns. These three layers work together to create a unique mix of content coming from a brand or company on the social web.

1. Grundrauschen

This is the ongoing, daily conversation a company has with its customers on the social web. Talking about everything connected to the company, the brands and the products as much as what’s on the customers’ minds. It’s everything a customer wants to know and talk about if she connects to a company on the social web.

2. Added Value

The Grundrauschen is the start of the conversation. But talking about the company and products isn’t enough anymore. Customers can also get that from the company website and a newsletter, for example. A company has to offer something unique for people to come back and stay connected with the company.
To define this added value, a company should look for the unique expertise and insight it can offer. Like an FMCG brand offering advice for cooking and preparing food instead of just talking about their products. Like a car company talking about mobility etc.

These questions might help to figure out the added value:

  • What unique knowledge can I offer that makes my customers smarter, not only about my products but about the topics connected to them?
  • What will make my customers say “If you disappeared from the social web, I would really miss your …”?
  • What can I give my customers that will make them look good in conversations?

The added value isn’t just a one-off thing. It’s an added layer to the continuous conversation. It has to be broad enough to provide material for a long time and deep enough to be presented in all kinds of formats (little tips, videos, tools etc.).

3. Campaigns

Grundrauschen and added value are the foundation for continuous conversation with the customers and anybody else interested in the brand and the topics. They are mainly focussed on the company’s existing communities on social media platforms. The goal is to keep the connection alive and thriving.

Out of the Grundrauschen and the added value, topics and ideas sometimes emerge that have the potential to be bigger. They have the potential to gain attention for the company and lead people to the existing communities. This is where campaigns come in. Campaigns are built on top of the Grundrauschen and the added value. They are larger, temporary activities that reach out to the social web and beyond. The best campaigns actually combine classic, digital and social media for maximum impact.

Campaigns can take all kinds of shapes and forms and their details are usually not part of a general social media strategy. They are part of the implementation and the planning.
Nevertheless, one thing should always be kept in mind: the best social media campaigns are developed and executed with the existing communities involved.

Further parts of a content strategy

Tonality

There’s a well-known cartoon by Hugh Macleod that says…

If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.

This holds as true now as it ever has. In the Social Web, there is a conversation between companies and consumers as well as a conversation between people among themselves. Finding the right tonality is essential.

Ground Rules

We recommend following some ground rules when communicating on the Social Web:

  • Real dialog: Act the way you would in a real conversation with a friend or acquaintance. Listen, and reply in a timely manner.
  • Engage at eye level: Don’t talk down to anyone.
  • No ads: Don’t use Social Media for advertising, but for facts and authentic conversations.
  • Honesty: Only talk about your product’s strengths if you’re truly convinced of them yourself.
  • Be open for criticism: The more confidently and respectfully a brand handles criticism, the more trustworthy it becomes.
  • Show appreciation: Thank your fans and highlight their efforts publicly.
  • Be tactful: You don’t have to be part of every conversation. Develop a feeling for when the users just want to talk among themselves.

Obviously, there’s much more that could be part of a content strategy. But followinging the models, guidelines and rules introduced above will cover the most important grounds and will make a good starting point for a content strategy that will have to be iterated along the way constantly.

With that, after figuring out whom to talk with and what to talk about, it’s time to look at where the conversations should take place.

The next article in this series is: Social Media Strategy: Platforms.

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.