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Why marketers are dissatisfied with social content

For years, advertisers created video content with a very good knowledge of the medium in which it was to be distributed: Broadcast between segments of TV shows. In this mass media past, reach was significant - providing you paid for it.

On its surface, the modern paradigm is more complicated. There are countless formats, platforms and audience segments for any strategy. But if you dig just a little below the surface it's easy to see that, in fact, things haven't really changed all that much; or at least as much.

In the world of brand content what you create lives and dies by targeted reach on social platforms.

Of course, brand content is not new. It is a relic of the mass media era where marketers could buy their way to creating content closely resembling legitimate editorial. It’s just been repackaged for the digital age.

A study released in the fall, conducted by IPG MediaBrands in partnership with Forbes and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, concludes that branded content’s impact is superior to display advertising in terms of recall, brand perception and intent/consideration.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The fact that we tell each other stories is an essential foundation of humanity. Stories engage; overt branding, not so much.

Thanks to the rise of social media, brands discovered that they could target consumers with content offerings on a variety of platforms and rely on free organic reach to find audiences. Like mana from heaven, it was too good to be true. Imagine. You put all your eggs into creating create content, and the audiences are free. But, the party didn’t last long. 

Recently, brands have been struggling to keep the buzz going.

By last summer, organic reach on Facebook had tanked, dropping by a reported 42% in a few short months due to on-going algorithm updates.

Sure enough, disappointment followed. According to Forrester Research, 85% of marketers in the branded content space say that they view social media efforts as “somewhat effective” or worse. Another study by Clutch, a B2B software and professional services recommendation firm, released in February indicates that satisfaction with branded content efforts max out at 18% depending on the type of content.

According to The CMO Survey, 40 percent of CMOs say that social media is underperforming relative to the rest of the organization’s marketing efforts. Just 11.5 percent have said they can prove the impact of social media quantitatively.

So what’s a self-respecting brand in the business of content creation to do?

Well, as Anne Murray once sang, “everything old is new again.” Last year, one-third of organizations that invested in custom content spend 30% to 50% of their content marketing budgets on content distribution. According to Contently, the remaining two-thirds spend under $1,000 a month on content distribution. “There is a huge delta between the majority of content marketers and their most successful peers,” blogger Shane Snow states. “For brands already creating effective content, paid content distribution is the best and easiest way to take a huge leap.

In other words, the most successful brands are once again paying to ensure that their stories reach audiences.

This sentiment is echoed by experts across the spectrum. “Without your wallet, your efforts have a very slim chance of reaching your audience on Facebook, and soon, it seems like the chances will be similarly slim on Twitter and Instagram,” says Blaise Lucey in Marketing Land.

The advantage is that it allows you to be very targeted in who will see what you’ve created.

In fact, if you are savvy, then you are engaged in social listening first, which will allow you to tap into insights and direct your content in a much more focused way.

There are, of course, other factors that are essential to giving social content a best chance for success. It’s often better to do a series, than a one-off, for example. The way you use influencers, is another factor. How agencies and clients are internally organized is also a critical factor is, as is how deeply integrated social and content are with the broader marketing strategy.

Additionally, many advertisers continue to organize in a way where content is created over here by this group, and then distributed over there by that group. The brands that are finding success understand that content strategy and social distribution strategy should be coming out of the same group.

And of course, there is the issue of quality. There are some pundits who have declared that if paid social is the way forward, the quality of the content can take a back seat. This is rubbish. Paid will get your content far, but only so far. You still want the people that content reaches to engage with it and share it. Otherwise you are wasting your money

But first and foremost, just like in the days of mass media, you’ve got to be ready to pay a significant portion of the budget to surface the content to as many potential customers as possible.

In a world where organic reach on most social platforms has been sharply reduced, “any social campaign that’s gone viral has had some paid component,” says Lydia Daly, SVP of social media and branded content strategy for Viacom Velocity. “Paid has gone from optional to essential.”

Peter Vamos