The trouble with achieving some measure of success using social media is that it can feel pretty easy. There are plenty of well-intentioned, lonely, chatty, kind, disturbed, and bored people to be found at every social waterhole. These folks are ready to follow, friend, argue, RT, discuss, chat, and share as long and as often as you choose.
The problem, as I’m sure you’ve come to surmise, is that these people don’t move along the path of becoming a paying customer, no matter how engaging you are, unless they are a) the right people and b) given a reason to want to know about what they can buy from you.
Both parts of this equation come together in the social media world through the production and promotion of content – plain and simple. If you’re not producing valuable content and sharing or pointing to that content in digital gatherings then don’t expect any return on your efforts.
Show me a marketer questioning the ROI of social media, and I’ll show you a marketer devoid of any means to create and showcase engaging content.
Now, before you roll your eyes at the thought of another “content is king” prescription, let me tell you I’m not simply talking about white papers and blog posts.
Content in the social world doesn’t even have to be words, and certainly doesn’t have to be words you write. Content is just a concept for a tool that educates, demonstrates, informs, filters, entertains and gives people a reason to think you might have more of that hidden somewhere back at the ranch.
If I’ve expanded your view of content creation and amplification as the social media ROI creator, perhaps it would be helpful to explore some ways to get this done.
1) Write really good stuff
Of course this is the toughest one because it requires the most work, and perhaps the most talent. But, this is also the best way to build a foundation on which every aspect of your marketing online and offline can lean. Don’t forget that a great blog post can usually be turned into a great article for the local business publication. A series of related blogs posts make a killer handout for your next lunch and learn presentation.
Great content that you author is also the underpinning of your SEO efforts. Taking the time to craft articles with link baiting in mind can be enough to rank your Web site far ahead of your competitors, and links back to your site are a crucial component in search ranking.
Link worthy content is rarely brilliant prose offering sparkling commentary. (Hey, if you can do that on a routine basis, go for it.) Some of the best business content is content that tells people how to do something they want to do or is a list of tools or sites that might tell someone how do something. (Search Top 10 on a book marking site like delicious.com and you’ll see what I mean.)
Another way to create relevant and link worthy content on your own is monitor news stories coming out of your industry and look for ways to create editorial stances on the news – even better if your stance is counter to the prevailing thinking on the issue.
2) Find really good stuff
You know that friend of yours that knows the best places to eat, shop and hangout – what’s new and what’s now? They’re your go to person when you need to know.
Sharing other people’s content is a bit like this. Knowing where to find what’s being said about a topic, industry or challenge and sharing that is another form of content creation that builds trust.
Set up and subscribe to custom Twitter searches for your industry (try this search – gives you what people are saying about, but only tweets with links and no RT) and look for stories and angles to tweet and share in social networks.
3) Filter really good stuff
The good news is the Internet gives each and every one of us access to vast warehouse of content. The bad news is the Internet gives each and every one of us access to vast warehouse of content. I mean, how can you read through all this stuff to find what you need and must know?
RSS technology is a marketers gift from, well I don’t know, let’s give Dave Winer credit. The thing is, without knowing very much about the technical side of RSS you can use this plumbing to create custom content that’s worth sharing. Think how powerful it would be if you were the consultant that created custom information portals for each of the three market segments you served. Something tells me you could attract quite a following once people saw the specific nature on the feed you produced.
Using combinations of tools like Feedburner, delicious, Twitter search, backtype, Yahoo Pipes, Google Reader and Google Alerts even non techie types can create automated individualized RSS feeds to serve to specific clients and industries. You can easily publish this content to web pages of make it subscribable.
For dead simple publishing you could set up a series of posterous blogs by market segment and then simply email links, photos, videos and alerts to the proper blog.
Almost every social media practitioner touts the value of listening stations, but there’s some real gold in filtering stations too.
4) Make exclusive offers
Hey, people get engaged by a deal. A special offer is content in my mind. Offers made exclusively through social media channels are proving very effective for brands that have built trust in other avenues.
The key is to use social media offers in conjunction with your other forms of communication so that your offers are received with enough context. No matter how great a deal is, you want to know you can trust the organization making the deal.
A tremendous way to create, or perhaps borrow, trust is to create opportunities for your networks to share exclusive offers with their friends. Get in the habit of creating promotions that allow your friends to get the benefit of passing our the goodies and watch how fast they can spread. Of course find a way to track and reward them for their participation too.
This kind of content creation works a lot like a referral and differs greatly with the products or services being presented, but can be a powerful way to create immediate ROI from social media participation. Start with your existing customers and co-create the right kind of promotion and motivation.
5) Teach your network to do the same
The final way to significantly amp up your content return is recruit and equip you own private network to do the same.
This is such a powerful play because it gives you a very solid reason to formalize your offline strategic partner network and in effect turn yourself into human link bait. (What do you think, should I trademark that term?)
The idea here is that if do all of the things mentioned in this post or plan to, why not figure out a way to recruit a network and teach them how to do the same for their business. On top of creating a powerful referral network for business and leads, you can create content opportunities for all of your partners through interviews and guest posts and routinely look to share each other’s content on book marking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon.
Take this approach a step further and teach your first ten strategic partners to do the same and recruit ten each, and then ten each – all part of the club. It’s like creating your own little MLM empire built on content. (No matter what you think of the history of products sold in that model, there’s no denying the power of multiplication that can occur in this kind of a network.)
John Jantsch is a marketing and digital technology coach, award winning social media publisher and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.