We know you have some burning questions about online content. The main thing you may be wondering is ‘how on earth can putting a few updates on Facebook or Twitter actually generate sales?’.
We’ve written this brief to help clarify a few areas that can be confusing around social media. We’ve interspersed psychology with current statistics on how consumption and sharing can improve lead generation and result in sales through social media, blogging and outreach, and we want to look at what really works – and why. If you haven’t got a lot of time, check out our Business Case for Content – An Intro.
Is there any point in online content marketing?
Yes. While traditional advertising – in the form of direct mail shots, paper advertising and TV commercials, for example – used to be the standard way of selling products, times have changed. Consumers are actively skipping TV commercials, leaving direct mail shots unopened and eschewing traditional forms of marketing material (Content Marketing Institute 2012). If you’re a small business looking to find new customers, the world of advertising has morphed dramatically in the past decade. In the past, advertising involved a one-way channel of communication between the company and the consumer. With the internet, advertising has taken a very different approach: consumers are now actively seeking out brands online in order to consume and share content they’ve read with their friends. Research has shown that consumer engagement with branded content has reinforced positive attitudes about that brand (Content Marketing Association 2013). So in essence, consumers are interacting with brands and helping them advertise – for free. What’s more, 46% of online users rely on social media before making a purchase decision (Nielsen).
What can good content do for my business?
Imagine for a moment that you could connect with potential customers from your chair and your computer, tell them about your business, what you have to offer and what your product or service can do for them. Oh wait, you can – this is called social media! Over 73% of adults use social networking sites (Pew). In 2013, over 25% of all of the time spent on the internet was spent on social networking sites (Experian, Content Marketing Institute). People spend more than half their time online with branded content, and an additional 23% of their time on social media channels where content can be shared (Content Marketing Institute). While you might feel skeptical about using social media to obtain sales, think again: social media yields almost twice the amount of marketing leads of trade shows, telemarketing, direct mailings, pay-per-click or other traditional marketing avenues (HubSpot). The best thing about it is that it’s natural and organic and is a subtle form of content marketing.
How do I know online content is bringing me customers?
The big question: how do I know content is bringing me customers? The truth is, while you can measure the effectiveness of a social media strategy or campaign using analytics and engagement, the relationship between good content and clients isn’t always straightforward. That said, social media has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than traditional marketing (Hubspot). The first thing to remember is that the positive relationship between good content, actively engaged followers and sales doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It necessitates a great brand identity, great content and an engaged audience, all of which take time to cultivate. We’ll talk about engagement a bit later. In the meantime, we have some good news though: content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, so you’ve got more bang for your buck (or pound, euro or franc) (Demand Metric 2013). For every euro spent, content marketing generates about 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing (Demand Metric).
How does content marketing actually translate to lead generation and sales?
Content creation is all about getting personal – it’s about trust and engagement. Do you place more trust in an TV advert or in a friend’s suggestion? Unsurprisingly, research has found that 90% of users listen to recommendations shared from friends (Voltier Digital 2012) and clicks from shared content are 5 times more likely to result in a purchase (Voltier Digital 2012). Conversion rates are 105% higher for consumers who interact with ratings and product reviews (Prestige Marketing 2012).
You can build the same trust in your brand organically through content creation by writing a blog, publishing articles and engaging with your community online. Consumers are increasingly equating good content with a business they can trust: over 78% of consumers felt that businesses that created custom content were interested in building good relationships with their consumers (TMG Custom Media). And 60% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site (Content+). So the trust and brand loyalty which results from good content converts directly into lead generation – and there’s research backing this up. Nearly 75% of marketing professionals relied on Facebook as an important element of lead generation, and research has found that companies with over 1,000 Facebook likes received almost 1,400 website visits per day (HubSpot). 77% of B2C companies acquired a customer on Facebook in 2012 (HubSpot). Pinterest has also been successful at driving sales – 21% of Pinterest users have purchased an item after seeing it on Pinterest (PriceGrabber). And 34-36% of marketers have generated leads on Twitter (Huffington Post 2013).
An increasingly high proportion (69%) of marketers have found that branded content is more effective than magazine advertising, direct mailings and PR (Custom Content Council). This is reflected in the amount of marketers now using social media for marketing purposes: 86% of B2C marketers and 91% of B2B marketers are using content marketing (Content Marketing Institute). Over 85% of fans of brands on Facebook recommended these brands to others – compared to 60% of average users (Syncapse). Unsurprisingly, content from reputable sources is most shared (UCLA), and 68% of consumers spend time reading content from a brand they are interested in (The CMA).
Is it all about followers and likes?
Having followers and likes on social media is an important goal. Let’s face it, if you’re singing in an empty room, no one is going to hear you. But there’s an important myth that needs to be dispelled when it comes to followers: it’s about quality, not quantity. Yes, having a plethora of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes you feel good, gives your business some credibility and an air of authority with others. We won’t argue that building a social media following is an important long term strategy. But here’s the important thing: followers don’t necessarily equal customers, and on social media, it’s about quality of the connection rather than the number of followers themselves. Thinking about it another way, if you were stuck in a foreign country and needed help, would you rely on a group of eight close friends to help you out, or a group of 80 casual acquaintances who barely know your name? Chances are, you’ll have more supporters in the first group – and the same is true of your business. As we said earlier, it’s about steadily building trust. Rather than focus on trying to hit 100 followers in a few weeks, concentrate on establishing quality relationships with your followers, because your brand supporters will be those most likely to recommend your product to others.
How do I build relationships with my followers?
The key to building good relationships is producing interesting content and engaging with your followers. It’s not just about posting endless updates. It’s about interacting, replying, sharing personal information – which is all part of your brand story! A good example of someone who has done a tremendous job at building relationships is Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. Jenny has possibly the most popular blog on social media today – with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. But what has got her this far hasn’t been simply venting in a vacuum: it’s been engaging with her followers. She gets personal with her audience by sharing parts of her life, responding to tweets and letting her audience know who the real Jenny Lawson is. This has built trust, and in turn built her community. She interacts with her followers and in response she regularly has over 1000 comments and replies to her posts. That’s about as great as a community can get.
Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that Jenny’s book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list. It also has an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars from 2000 reviewers. This is true engagement.
How long does it take before I see results?
Because the secret to social media is about building quality relationships as well as gaining followers, success won’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience – most experienced social media gurus suggest that it will take approximately six and nine months to see real results in terms of sales (Converse Digital). Yes, there are ways to increase followers overnight if its followers or likes that you’re after – but as we’ve pointed out, likes do not constitute an engaged following, but an engaged following – brought together through great content – does translate to sales. After six months, metrics should start to show if the hard work is paying off. Useful metrics include blog and website traffic, email sign-ups and downloads as well as fans and followers on social media sites. And slowly but steadily, this will translate into sales.
What types of content work?
As far as social media is concerned, good content increases engagement and brand loyalty and interesting content is a top 3 reason people follow brands on social media (Content+). Different types of content can be effective to increase engagement among your followers – here are some of the most important today.
It’s no secret that visual content is the key factor driving engagement on social media, with photos shared now more than ever (Simply Measured). 90% of the information that comes to the brain is visual, and visual images are processed 60,000 times faster than text (Zabisco and 3M Corporation). As a result, content should include visual aspects. Articles with images get 94% more views than those without images (Content+ 2013), and photos are most likely to be liked on Facebook over text, video and links (Dan Zarrella). Tweets with images are 94% more likely to be retweeted (Social News Daily 2013).
Viewers spent more 100% more time on pages with videos on them (MarketingSherpa). Just a month after Facebook introduced timelines for brands, photos and videos saw a 65% increase in engagement (Simply Measured). Videos are currently the most shared form of viral content and articles with videos are more likely to be shared than articles without (Newswhip.com). Similarly, blog and Facebook posts with videos attract 3 times more visitors than plain text posts (SEOmoz). 85% of viewers are more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video (Internet Retailer).
Infographics have become another popular method of presenting visual data. People are drawn to infographics because they are easy to process – 40% of people respond better to this type of visual information of plain text (Zabisco). In addition to being easier for your brain to process than numbers and spreadsheets, infographics tell a story within a picture. They attract attention and the tight ‘packaging’ of words, visuals and a story is perfect for sharing. They’re great for any social media channel and have high viral potential – integrating them onto a website can grow traffic by an average of 12% in comparison to sites not using infographics (AnsonAlex).
A website is a crucial element of any business strategy. 46% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning how credible the company is (Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab).
Posting live updates from an event is a great way of increasing engagement among your followers. On Twitter, we call this live tweeting – it’s a wonderful method of connecting with a highly targeted audience. In fact, it’s currently an underused practice, which means that live tweeting at an event can put you in the spotlight. If there’s no event hashtag, create one. Do some advance research to see if other companies and speakers have a Twitter account, and tag them. Finally, snap a few pictures and put these in your tweets – this nearly doubles your chances of being retweeted (Sustainability Consult).
Email is still an effective method of marketing, with about 50% of people reading most of their emails (Hubspot). Research has also show that consumers who received email marketing spend 83% more when shopping (Tripolis).
Writing articles is a great way to engaging your following, and 58% of consumers trust editorial content (Nielsen). 70% of consumers would rather get to know a company by reading articles than looking at ads (Content Plus). 80% of business decision makers would prefer to get information about a company in a series of articles rather than a print advertisement (Content Marketing Institute).
Apart from being a terrible name for articles posted as lists, listicles are a very popular way of producing content. Traditionally the realm of internet blogging sites like BuzzFeed, now Huffington Post, the Washington Post and others are opting to present information as lists. The reason? They’re highly successful. Case in point: the Washington Post’s recent piece ‘9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask was the 11th most shared piece of content on Facebook. There’s two simple psychological elements at work with lists: you know what you’re getting before you commit to reading, and the brain is more able to process information in lists, making the format a winner.
Blogs are widely read – over 329 million people read blogs every month (blogging.org 2012). In addition to connecting and building a relationship with your audience, well written blogs directly help your website by creating more traffic and getting more leads by giving websites over 4 times as many indexed pages and almost double the amount of indexed links (Content+). 92% of B2C companies that blogged more than once a day acquired a customer through their blog (Hubspot). B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that don’t (Social Media B2B). Companies that blog 15+ times per month get 5 times more traffic than companies that don’t blog (Hubspot 2012), and companies with an active blog have reported 97% more leads (Content+ 2013).
eBooks are a useful form of content to spread your message. Books are simple to put together and can be used as a way of disseminating your ideas for free – and quickly. For some businesses, an e-book can showcase a product; for others, it can help spread your manifesto. Salespeople spend 40% of their time preparing for customer communications (CMO Council) – so a ready made book can reduce the amount of time you spend preparing or selling to your customers – and can showcase your product in a great light.
Is there anything else I should know?
Don’t lose potential readers at the expense of a poor headline. Headlines are the first thing a reader will see and will help them decide whether or not your piece of content is relevant. Successful headlines are direct, short (headlines of general viral content tend to be less than 7 words, unless there is a specific audience, e.g. sports). Successful headlines give exciting news, state benefits (‘Better writing increases engagement’), help solve a problem (‘How better writing can help increase engagement’), or ask important questions (“How can you increase engagement through writing?”).
Write interactive content. The best way to create an engaged community of followers isn’t just by giving them information, it’s also asking their feedback. Did they try your recipe and what did they think of it? What ingredients would they substitute? What would they want to see in a coaching programme? Which of these two hairstyles would you prefer to have, and why? Ask people for feedback, views and opinions. Their responses are your first step to an engaged audience. Keep the discussion going!
Be consistent. On Facebook, posting once a day is a good start. On Twitter, accounts with the strongest rating tweet an average of 14 times a day – but beginning with one or two tweets is more realistic until you find your groove. Blogs and articles can come less frequently – think quality over quantity.