In our experience, we’ve discovered that we usually have to ease our clients into the realities of organic web marketing. They can get behind the groundwork of SEO easily enough; user experience and integrating the right keywords: these are not totally alien concepts to anyone who’s been around the marketing scene for more than three seconds.
But when we get into the truth of how much time and effort goes into the actual work of raising their web visibility--that it’s an ongoing process that will require them to generate content and build relationships--we often see some reluctance.
To combat that reluctance, we’ve put a lot of thought into how we conduct and explain our particular version of content marketing.
Defining our Terms
Before we get into that, a quick note about said version of content marketing. In general, we understand that content marketing is usually considered different from social media marketing. Content marketing is about drawing attention to the content on your website; social media marketing is about encouraging engagement on the various social media forums out there in cyberspace.
When we work with clients on their web marketing, we tend to blur that line between content and social media marketing. Every strategy we develop includes both. Valuable content--blog posts, infographics, videos, whatever content type aligns with the client’s goals--forms the foundation of any web marketing effort. Once we’ve got the value, we utilize social media to get the word out, engage, build relationships, and ultimately brand awareness. See the blurring?
To us, the label matters less than having a deliberate and intentional strategy to provide something of value on an ongoing basis, because content and social media marketing ultimately work together to build:
- Value in your company or organization (or on behalf of your client)
- A personality and brand that people know and trust
- Sustainable relationships
- A supportive online community
- Domain authority and desired rankings
So, when our clients consistently had a tough time grasping what it takes to raise their visibility on the web, we decided that something had to be done.
To that end we’ve developed an approach that clearly explains and delineates the process, step-by-step. It spells out who does what and when and how and just, in general, makes the whole thing both more manageable and more palatable to our hesitant clients.
We always start out by explaining that our organic web marketing process includes three stages:
- Stage One
SEO & Local Search (research & implementation)
- Stage Two
Link Building & Social Media Strategies (research & development)
- Stage Three
Ongoing Implementation & Measurement (which never, ever ends)
This graphic depicts Stages Two and Three. It is the process that we use to develop and implement content and social media marketing strategies for our clients:
By the time we get to this part of our (almost painfully) well-defined process, two things have come to pass:
 Stage One Has Been Completed
Way back at the beginning of Stage One, the clients completed a data collection questionnaire that provides us with a general understanding of the following:
- design preferences & assets
- logins (website, analytics, social)
- competition (top 3)
- target audience (and level of expertise)
- website (most important pages, most significant tasks)
- calendar (highs and lows, significant events, holidays, roadblocks)
- team (point of contact)
- marketing efforts (print, social, SEO, email marketing)
- goals & expectations (SEO, social media)
We have reviewed these findings and worked through all of the necessary website and SEO efforts that are part of Stage One of the project (site audit, navigation development, user experience, keyword research, on-page optimization, local search integration, etc.). Stage One lays the groundwork so that the website is optimized and ready for all the targeted traffic we’re going to generate. We’ve also discovered the keywords that we will be integrating into both their link building and content/social media marketing strategy so that we are building links to the right pages on the website once we get to Stage Three.
 We Have Defined & Aligned Everyone’s Expectations & Responsibilities
Every client has different budgets and expectations of participation. Some clients have a large internal team that can dedicate the time to ongoing content generation and strategy implementation. Other clients really need to lean on our knowledge, expertise, and resources, so at that level we act as their third party web marketing team and carry most of the load for them.
No matter what level we are working with a client, we always make it very clear what it takes to achieve desired results and who will be held accountable for achieving these results. If a client asks us to assist them with research, analysis, and strategy development, but they want their internal team to do the ongoing implementation, we cannot be held accountable if our recommendations are not carried through. It’s really important to establish these guidelines with a client even before you go under contract. It will certainly make for a more successful and long lasting consulting partnership.
All that being said, here’s how content marketing and the social process breaks down:
Step One: Analyze & Observe
In this first step of the process, you’ve got to get a really strong understanding of the the social climate. Analyze what the client is currently doing (or not doing) with their social on their website, blog, and print marketing efforts. Do the same for their competitors. Get a solid understanding of what is going on in their industry, focusing on the social space.
Your goal with this analysis is to put together a list of general observations: what are the common threads between the client and their competitors? What could be done better? Note the gaps in content and where gains can be made. We record these observations on a chart so that we can integrate them into the analysis and recommendations that we provide the client. These observations will also be very helpful when you begin developing the strategy and calendar in Step Three below.
Step Two: Build Your Online Community
In Step Two, you will be establishing the foundation for the online community. At this point, the goal is simply to get acclimated to the social spaces where the client will be following, reading, engaging, and at some point, providing valuable content.
So, based on what you discovered from the data collection findings about the target audience(s), current efforts, and goals, which social media outlets seem like a match?
Let’s say you’re going to recommend Twitter and Google+ as targets in their content marketing and social strategy. Find the thought leaders in their industry on Twitter and Google+ and follow/circle them. Read the content they’re passing around, engage with them where appropriate, add the people that they are following to your list. Start to get a feel for how the online community operates (posting frequency, content type, tone, etc.) and get acclimated. Take it slow.
Reminding clients that social media is a tool and not a strategy helps them to understand that it’s important to have a plan in place. It’s not about being on every social media outlet. It’s about being on the right social media outlets and customizing the content to the target audience. This will ultimately build the best online community and bring your client desired results.
Developing an online community is an important and ongoing process that is worth a great deal of dedicated time and effort. This community is going to help you carry the load. If the community trusts and values you, they will help to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the word out (marketing your content). More on this in Step Five.
Step Three: Develop Your Strategy & Calendar
As mentioned, at the beginning of a project, we ask our clients to define their goals and expectations. This allows them to communicate their desires, and it gives us an understanding of whether their expectations are realistic.
If there are any red flags (i.e. wants a too-quick turn-around: 15,000 followers in six months with no budget to fund large campaigns), then certainly we address any concerns at the beginning of the project.
Before we begin developing the strategy and calendar, we outline a list of realistic goals and how we are going to work toward them. Again, we integrate this chart into the analysis and recommendations that we provide the client so that they have an understanding of what we are going to be accountable for.
These goals and action items are just the precursor to their strategy. The analysis and recommendations that we provide the client includes a very detailed, step-by-step breakdown of their strategy (all the stuff we’re going to help them do or do for them).
As you’ve probably guessed, every strategy we develop includes content generation on an on-going basis. But we also include targeted strategies and ideas for whatever is necessary to meet their unique goals, things like apps, contests, events.
Our strategies are detailed and very specific. We provide step-by-step instructions for every campaign (i.e. what to do prior to the contest to ramp up, what to do during the contest, what to do after the contest), so that the strategy can be easily followed by the client’s internal team (in case we’re not handling the implementation). And, hey, if their budget allows us to do the work, then these details make it easy for our team to execute.
The narrative of the social strategy is also accompanied by a digital calendar that includes all actions to be taken and who is responsible for completing them. We make sure the calendar allows plenty of time for first-draft content reviews and revisions prior to launch/implementation.
Our clients prefer that we provide some guidance, so each of these calendar items includes a brief description of the task. If you click on one of the calendar items, there is some detail so that whoever the task is assigned to, they know exactly what is expected of them. Because the calendar is digital and everyone on the team has access, when we make changes to their schedule or strategy, everyone is alerted.
When you’re developing the content and social media marketing strategy, make sure that you are aligning all efforts (SEO, link building, social media, email marketing, etc.). Everything, from print to web, should be integrated and leveraged. You can then determine which tools and methods you will use for measurement (we love Raven, SEOmoz, Google Analytics, and Sprout Social) so that you can show the client the progress that is being made.
Step Four: Create the Value
Once the strategy is ready, it’s time to create the content. Clearly this is an ongoing effort, but having a strategy to follow will ensure that content is being generated on a regular basis and that it is working towards meeting the goals that have been outlined. It will also keep everyone involved organized and focused so that you’re not heading towards burn out.
On a side note: we like to encourage clients to integrate links to other valuable content (articles, video, infographics, etc) in their posts. This helps to provide a more engaging user experience and it also gives the opportunity for link and egobait. You can always publish a post and alert the author that you liked one of their articles and mentioned it in your post.
Step Five: Get the Word Out
The content has been created, so now comes the fun part. When getting the word out, you have two main goals:
First, provide something of value.
Second, be authentic (and make sure that you’re consistent with voice).
Every social media outlet is different and your approach should reflect that. Don’t use the same teaser for Facebook as you use on Twitter. Not only are the formats of these outlets different, but so are the audiences, their behaviors, and their expectations. Take the time to customize your messages and you’ll get better results. You can then measure and analyze these efforts in Step Seven and determine if you need to try a different day of the week, time of day, reduce/increase frequency, or a whole different approach altogether.
Step Six: Monitor & Engage
Once the content is out, you will want to be hands on, so get ready to monitor and engage. If you’re not getting bites on your content (re-tweets, mentions, etc.) try some direct engagement. Tweet, use other social outlets, or even email people directly to encourage some action.
As we’ve said, depending on budget, we may do some or all of this work for the client. We always define specific tasks that the client is responsible for and specific tasks that we are responsible for (and they are always noted on the calendar). Joint tasks usually include things like daily review of the online community and social media outlets, as well as responding and engaging.
Even if we are not engaging on behalf of the client, we are always monitoring the client’s efforts. This provides the client with useful feedback that will help them to learn, improve, and ultimately be successful. Certainly we are always monitoring data, and we provide a series of reports analyzing and explaining their metrics in the next step, Measure & Analyze, below.
Step Seven: Measure & Analyze
Accountability is really important, especially because clients will always be concerned with ROI which can be difficult to quantify with content and social media marketing.
We continually communicate with the client and provide bi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports that all serve specific purposes.
The bi-weekly report is meant for a quick look. It’s a short, 1-2 page report that we email to the client that includes a ‘Way to Go’ section (things they’re doing well), a ‘Some Reminders’ section (things they need to remember to do to keep them aligned with the strategy), a ‘Benchmark’ (current state of social efforts), and a ‘Looking Forward’ section (actions required). It’s a quick accountability report that provides the client with an understanding of what we’ve been working on (and perhaps what they need to be working on).
The monthly report is the month at a glance, including significant social media activity (increase in following, furthering reach, etc.), trends we’re seeing, and other things to look out for (there may be some link building or SEO items to point out here). We include screen shots from both Sprout Social and Raven, as well as any screenshots of analytics specific to the social media outlet (i.e. Facebook).
The quarterly report is the most in-depth as it includes a look at the global picture. This report illustrates the progress of everything we are working on for the client: SEO, link building, content marketing, and social media. Clearly we are monitoring, analyzing, and taking action on these pieces throughout the quarter, but this reporting session is meant to really dig in, analyze the data over a longer period of time, and make the necessary improvements in all areas (SEO, link building, and social media). This meeting is always a sit down, face-to-face (if possible) with the client. We may make changes to the strategy in this meeting or address new work that the client would like us to take care of.
Step Eight: Rinse & Repeat
Once you’ve completed this process, you can start over with a new idea, a new goal, and a new strategy. Follow the same steps and customize the process for the work you do with your clients.
Along the way, don’t forget to celebrate the little victories. We get really excited about getting re-tweets, targeted links, and engaging with thought leaders. We teach our clients to bask in the excitement of even the smallest accomplishment. It helps them to understand how hard we work for them (with them) every day.
So, that’s how we do it. For now, anyway. We are continually working on shaping our systems and processes so that we can provide our clients with the most value (and get them desired results). You can certainly use this process as a guideline, but keep in mind that every client and project is going to be unique and will require customization at some level. And, of course, as content and social media marketing evolves, this process will require adjustment.
We’ve discovered that spelling things out, dissecting and cataloguing the entire process, severely reduces the terror that our clients experience in the face of the alien world of content marketing (just like Area 51 does it). And it makes sure everything runs smoothly for us as we implement as well.
So, how about you? How do you convince your more timid clients to commit to the real deal? And, since we are always striving for improvement, we’d welcome your thoughts on how we do it, too.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Define and Align: A Manageable Content and Social Media Marketing Process | SEOmoz