There is a quasi-conventional wisdom developing which says that social media is best used (and sometimes is only useful) for top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) brand awareness. Though this may have been true early on, as social media becomes a more broadly accepted mode of communication by consumers of all stripes, its usage has become more sophisticated.
Much like a company website, today's social consumer expects more than a brochure-level social media experience. When engaging with brands, they want discounts, coupons, and special promotions; moreover, these are all sales-ready consumer behaviors.
Businesses are learning that getting social with their content creates a virtuous cycle: sharing web-based content on social media expands a brand's social media reach; greater social reach in turn drives more traffic to a company's web-based content, multiplying its reach, and so on.
Having said that, online content marketers are using social media for more than just TOFU brand promotion; they are using it to drive leads and sales.
Check out this graphic from industry-leading inbound marketer Hubspot about blogging frequency and customer acquisition:
Here's how online content marketing impacts social: Content is the principle means by which companies tailor different social media experiences (campaigns) for prospects at different stages of the buying cycle.
HOW IT WORKS
Let's say your company, Widget World, sells really awesome widgets. I've been meaning to research various aspects that go into a great widget for some time now because I need to buy some widgets for a household project I've been putting off. While checking out Facebook during lunch one day, I notice my friend Doug has just shared a blog post titled, "Everything you wanted to know about quality widgets, but were afraid to ask."
I know Doug to be a real handy guy, so I click on the link and read the post. The article is concise and well-written, providing me with a bunch of useful information about widgets. It's authored by a company called Widget World. I decide to "like" Widget World on Facebook, if for no other reason than to remind me that I need to buy widgets this coming weekend.
Saturday morning rolls around, and I add "buy widgets" to my weekend to do list. When I log onto Facebook, I see in my news feed that Widget World has posted a link to a company promotional video on YouTube.
Keep in mind, at this point, I'm ready to buy widgets. The only question is whether I'll buy them from Widget World or some other provider. When deciding, I want to know two things: 1) Are Widget World widgets really all that great, and 2) if I buy widgets from them, am I getting the best deal.
After watching Widget World's promo video, I understand exactly why they have such a great product.
Not quite ready to pull the trigger, I go back the Facebook company page, where I find a series of brief customer comments. I'm drawn to the one from my Aunt Mabel saying that Widget World sells high-quality widgets at a competitive price. That's good enough for me: Aunt Mabel is known to be thrifty and thorough-going in her consumer research. Then I see a big banner that reads, "check-in on Facebook when at Widget World to receive 20% our world-famous widgets.
Perfect. Off to Widget World I go.
WHY IT MATTERS
This example illustrates exactly how online content marketing can impact social media at every stage of the buying process. At the top-of-the-funnel, I read a blog about widgets. I then watched a middle-of-the-funnel promotional webcast about Widget World's widgets, and finally read some bottom-of-the-funnel customer testimonials in support of said widgets. Taken together, it was enough info for me to buy.
Importantly, the starting point, middle point, and ending point of my research was on social media. I never really engaged with the Widget World website. I didn't need to. I found everything I was looking for on social media.
That is not to say your company should pitch its website in favor of a social-only approach; such action would be folly. A company website is still the most efficient distribution hub for online content. Instead, think of your website as your brand's Internet storefront. In this analogy, your online content acts as the sales and marketing collateral, with social media playing the dual role of virtual PR manager and sales rep rolled into one.
And what was Widget World's acquisition cost for the sale? They wrote an informational blog, shared it on social media, uploaded their company promotional video onto YouTube, linked it to their other social sites such as Facebook, and perhaps encouraged customers to support them on Facebook.
Finally, because I thoroughly enjoy my Widget World widgets, I took the time to fill out a few brief comments on Facebook, and share that original blog post on my news feed. More free promotion for Widget World.
Why did I bother? It's the least I could do after getting such a great deal on widgets.