So you’re on social. But are you being social?

14-06-2016

The thing – maybe it's the key thing – about the social and content space is that it's just that: a social and content space. It's not an ad break full of other brand's ads. It wasn't built for marketers to do their marketing in. It was built for humans to be social in. So by definition, you're not just competing with your rival brands in the social and content space. You're competing with Go Pro, with Buzzfeed, with Jamie Oliver - and of course with a great-grandma from Norway doing keepy-uppies.

I've been lucky enough to work with many great brands in the social/content space over the past few years. Many of them have been happy to look sideways at their key competitors and 'do a better job' than them. Which is fine. And as often as not, fairly easy to accomplish.

But there's a problem. Because a brand's competitors are not necessarily their main rivals in this space - they're also competing for attention in their target audience's social media feeds with the greatest content creators in the world.

People's feeds are crammed full of brilliant attention-grabbing content. If you're a food FMCG brand attempting to broadly target female 25–45, BC1C2D, yes you need to take that sideways glance at your rival brands' activity. But you also have to look upwards - to the best.

Your piece of content (image, GIF, short form video, longer form video) will sit amongst content from Jamie Oliver, The Body Coach, BBC Good Food and The Happy Pear. It will also sit above or below content from IKEA, Always and McDonalds. Don't forget about the online publishers like Buzzfeed, Her.ie and Waterford Whispers packing the feeds. And then there's things like the keepy-up granny, a Cian Twomey video, and some Lovin' Dublin listicle, plus many, many other bite-size, snack-size and meal-size pieces of content. The competition is fierce altogether.

Oh, but maybe you're a brand targeting males 18–30? In which case you're up against content from Red Bull, Patagonia, Nike, Old Spice, Paddy Power, Joe.ie, Brooklyn Beer, NASA, LadBible and a whole lot more.

It's becoming more difficult to cut-through. A topical post in which you position your product at the centre of a Halloween or Easter-themed graphic just won't cut it. You're a beer brand? Well you might want to reconsider that post with the bottle and the pumpkins – because your target is pretty sure to be all pumpkined-out, already.

So how do you compete with the greatest content creators in the world with relatively limited budgets? How do you still get people excited? How do you get them to engage with your brand?

You could take the Innocent approach. 90% of the content they create is so entertaining, quirky, relevant and fun that people simply don't mind getting the 10% of product push. This is a value exchange. You want to see Innocent's Facebook Live feed when they replace the insides of biscuits with toothpaste and put them in the kitchen, so you don't mind hearing about their new super smoothie.

When we're working on an overarching digital, social and content strategy for a brand at my agency, we aim to ensure that all content is useful, people-focused and that it's different to anything else that's out there in the social sphere. Ideally it's all three.

By 'useful', we mean that it's providing our target audience with something that helps them, that entertains them, that bears some significance to their lives. By 'people-focused', we mean that people are put at the centre of what we do. That could be an approach that encourages and heroes user-generated content. Or perhaps we could decide to bring the people behind the brand - with their knowledge and passion - to the fore. And by content that's 'different'? Well, that's Ronseal. It should break with the convention.

Then it's time to decide what sort of content is likely to bring people along the purchase funnel. What's the theme of the content? What will pique interest and spark awareness? What will drive consideration and familiarise people with your brand? What will deliver conversion? Can your content enhance the experience for people once they buy your brand? Might it prompt people to share their experience?

So the strategising is done and we've got our clearly defined content themes. Next, creative - working alongside planning – endeavours to come up with those brilliant content ideas. (And when I say 'creative', I mean a mixed team of in-house social & content specialists, creatives and technologists. Getting this mix of talent working on your brand is essential if you're looking to create content that cuts through – and like, why else would you be doing it?)

This is the team that you've just tasked with the job of competing with some of the greatest content creators in the world. And not just that: because their content ideas must also ladder-up to the overarching brand and digital, social and content strategy. (This is clearly less of a concern for Keepy-up Granny.)

Some brands get lucky and a tactical content piece or execution in isolation gains a lot of traction in the digital space. At which point a social brand follows-up on this success. If there's no always-on digital, social and content strategy to make the most of this success, then your brand simply isn't being social. In fact it's being anti-social. Ouch!

So in order to compete with Go Pro, Buzzfeed, Jamie Oliver and a Great Granny doing keepy-uppys a brand needs to treat the social space in a way that respects its nature. Social is sensitive. It needs just as much love as your ATL activity gets. Not the love that's left over after the TV shoot's finished.

What else? Well, get a good agency that will help you put your overarching digital, social and content strategy in place. And whatever you do, have a plan – even if that plan requires the deactivation of your social channels while you get your ducks in a row. A badly thought-out social presence could be doing your brand more harm than good. But a well thought-out one? It could show Granny who's boss.

This article was originally published in IMJ in June 2016.