The Difference Between Content Marketing and Social Media

One is your heart and soul. The other is you waving your hands, tapping your feet and nodding your head to express your heart and soul.

Do you know which is which, and why? Do you know why the latter without the former is meaningless? 

I’m going to tell you why.

In the process, I’m probably going to be telling you why you’ve been wasting your time with social media. Up until now.

There is a way you can make all the time you put into social media well worth the effort. You may think you’re already do this. Mostly, you aren’t. And that’s why I recently exhorted folks in the social benefit sector to make this the year of content marketing.

I know, I know. It’s one of those buzz words you keep hearing about. It’s a meme du jour. But it’s not nonsense. There’s a reason things become memes. Did you know that the term was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena?

My hunch is that the digital revolution – which has totally changed the way the world does business– has required exactly this evolution in the manner in which we define and express ourselves. If you’re still defining and expressing yourself as you did in the pre-digital world you’re going to isolate yourself from the mainstream. I’m betting that’s not something you want to do.

So, what do you need to know about content marketing and social media in order to sustain your nonprofit in 2015 and beyond? I’m going to give you two basic concepts to make this as simple as possible for you to embrace and share with the rest of your nonprofit team:

  1. Content marketing is the heart and soul of your branding strategy. Your essence.
  2. Social media is a process for creating awareness and engaging with your peeps (or potential ones); it’s a way for you to express your essence.

One way I’ve talked about this in the past is “message” vs. “medium.” But I’ve found this concept twists some folks brains into knots (Is the message the medium – or vice-versa?), so I’d like to explore this a bit differently here.

I want you to put the content marketing horse before the social media cart.

Too many of you are doing it ass-backwards. You’re not thinking particularly strategically about your content, and you’re putting more and more eggs into social media. Before you add any more eggs, I want you to STOP a minute and ask: Why?

You can “do” social media well or you can do it poorly. You’ve got a bag of tricks, and the key to your success is choosing the tools that work best for you and learning how to master them. But that’s as far as social media will take you. It’s good. It’s important. But… it’s meaningless without a content marketing strategy.

Remember I said content marketing is your essence? Well, when’s the last time you thought really hard about what that is?

What I’d like to see you do in 2015 is put more resources into defining your distinctive, essential mission, and describing it in such a way that people can visualize becoming a part of it.

Yes, this is about writing your story first; then becoming a consummate, engaging storyteller.

Don’t just read the book to folks; then walk away. Engage with your audience. Have them help you write your story. Make it a bit like a “round robin” if you can. Interact. Talk about the obstacles that must be overcome, and see what solutions your constituents might come up with. Connect with folks. Show them how to be the hero who gives your story the happy ending.

Ah… but I’m getting ahead of myself… back to creating your story… back to fully embracing content marketing!

My pal (and blogging guru) Stan Smith puts it this way:

I believe content marketing is the most important marketing innovation since branding.

The way Stan sees it (and I concur) content marketing rests on a few simple notions:

  1. Customers are smart, interesting and fair.
  2. Companies are smart, interesting and (sometimes) fair.
  3. Content is the smart, interesting and fair way to connect customers with a company’s mission.

When you hone in on content marketing it forces you to express a smart, interesting, well-formulated, well-supported, well-told story. And great stories are what get your message across; nothing else does the trick quite as well.

As a nonprofit marketer, honing in on content compels you to ask the hard questions: “Why does our organization (or project) exist, and why would anyone care about it?” Too often nonprofit marketers simply assume that what they’re selling is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Content marketing forbids operation on the basis of assumption.

The place to begin is not with whatever piece of content you’re given. Don’t assume it’s interesting to anyone. Instead, ask “how can I turn this into a story worth telling?” Once you’ve done that, ask “how can I turn this story into a sustained, multi-platform, experience for people who resonate with our mission?”

Here’s an example:

You work for a human services organization that recently completed a strategic planning process. Your boss asks you to tweet out this accomplishment to the world, linking to a 30-page report sitting on your website. Rather than blasting out “See our new strategic plan (bit.lylink to dry and lengthy read),” you write up a brief story that takes your reader through the inspiration that was the genesis of the plan.

You help them visualize a waiting room in which there’s a harassed single mother with a small, sickly child; a bedraggled and hungry-looking homeless man and an unkempt senior in a wheel chair. You ask your reader to imagine which one of the three they would help if they only had an hour to spend.

You might then even tell a single paragraph story about what led each of these people to your waiting room. Next you’d spin out a bit of drama, explaining the limitations of your resources and what might happen to each of these folks if you don’t have time to help them today.

Then you introduce the “rescuers” – your board and executive team coming together to make the hard choices and create a plan to acquire the needed resources. You end with your inspiring new vision, also incorporating a way that your reader can also be a “rescuer” and help your vision come to fruition.

You write up this story, add a compelling photo or two (or maybe even a brief video), and then make this the link you share with folks via social media. You tweet it. You share it on Facebook and G+. You create a group discussion on LinkedIn about how to prioritize among competing social service needs. You “pin” the stories of the different folks in the waiting room onto one of your Pinterest boards; then link to the sections in your report where you discuss these populations in greater depth. You also pin photos of some of your board members, with links to mini-video addresses from them on your website about why they think your mission is essential.

Do you see the difference a content marketing strategy makes?

I’m now going to leave you with one additional suggestion. Make your blog the heart of your content marketing strategy. I’ve found it to be the easiest way to organize your thoughts and bring discipline to your content marketing. It’s a great place to house your stories; then you can drip bits and pieces out to the world using social media. If you don’t have a blog yet, I’d love to help you with it. If you do have one, I’d love to help you amp it up! You’ll find that once you begin blogging, everything else will start to naturally flow.

Okay… now go forth and concentrate on your heart and soul.

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