Brands increasingly see the editorial content of Social as a credible and vital route to market

I was delighted to host a roundtable at the Drum Digital Convergence conference around the growing need for brands to see themselves as publishers to meet customer needs, a subject I feel very passionate about as both a marketer and a consumer.  

I started my career as a journalist, in the final throes of a time when brands did not deal in content. They saw it as their role to produce press releases, product listings and web copy - but little more. It was the journalist's role to digest, interpret and editorialise this content for the consumer.

As a consumer, the role of the brand vs the press was pretty clear. You engaged with a brand if you wanted to buy something, read the manual about something, returned something or complained about something. How that 'something' fits in to your life, your style, your plans - well that was down to you and the journalists to hammer out.

Then, along came Social Media. It changed all of these pre-determined roles and the notion that content is king took hold of brands in every sector.

Brands know their customers are people in and of themselves, with interest and lives, households and businesses to run - all people who are ready and willing to interact with anything that helps them further these daily pursuits. They got smart and realised they could meet these customers on their terms and extend the touch points far beyond the traditional buy - return - complain cycle.

I am pleased to say that at the Drum roundtable I met representatives from a number of brands who are embracing change, and the growing importance of editorial, added value content.

Of course we also shared some key challenges in common with the issue of what to create and when, seeming to be a real stumbling block.

For some brands, such as travel companies or fashion retailers, the content pipeline is a lot more straightforward, as their engaging subject matter - a visually beautiful product, or a socially active audience, does a lot of the content creation for them.

However, for B2B brands or more niche consumer goods, the question remains of just how far off topic they should go in order to create engaging content.

My response was simple - establish who your target consumer is.  Then, establish a need they have related to your product. This may not be a need your product offering can fill, but your knowledge, expertise and content can. That's enough to keep that customer coming back time and again.

Many of the brands around the table also faced the challenge of creating content that can be all things to all people. A lot of them were large multinational bodies, with a range of products and verticals which all need content and a creative treatment. How this need is balanced with the differing needs of customer segments, as well as the number of social channels they are able to maintain, remains a challenge for many big name brands.

I was heartened to see an animated discussion among fellow Social Media professionals about the types and amount of content they wanted to create and the dawning of new possibilities for them.

From creative content, to the Social Media skill set required to run excellent and informative social campaigns, the discussion among brands has moved far beyond Social Media 101.

Increasingly, social is being seen as a credible and vital route to market, not only for a brand's core offering but for its creativity and expertise, a trend which I don't see changing anytime soon.

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