From Content Marketing to Conversation Sparking

Stephen Hunton

There’s this new ugly phrase in social media that makes me have the same guttural responses as phrases like “social business” or “liquid marketing,” because at its heart it just feels like it’s missing the mark on what social media is about. “Content Marketing”… ugh, gross. I think we can all agree that any piece of content is trying to “market” something, whether it’s a product or a personal POV or agenda that we share on social. But that phrase just feels so void of human emotion to me and I’m hopeful that we can get back to a place that felt more fun.

If we strip everything back to why people are on social, you find one core thing. Connections. Connections to people. Connections to brands we love or influencers we fancy. I know that I got on social many years ago simply because it was a new way to connect with people. People I knew. People I didn’t, but had similar passions and interests with. We were able to connect and none of our original posts in the dawn of social media were thought of as “content.” We literally thought of posts as conversation.

And here’s the rub. There’s SOOOO much data around word-of-mouth (WOM)’s effectiveness, which is completely founded on the principle of conversation. One person sees or experiences something cool, then tells someone else via physical or digital means. A conversation. So where did it all go sideways towards “content marketing?” In some respects, this may be a crutch that brands are using to avoid having to do the hard work of building relationships on social.

We should be grading [content’s] potential on whether or not someone might want to talk about it versus if we think it’ll get a click on the ol’ heart button.

Now, don’t get me wrong, content is critical, but it’s the mindset that I think is most important. What do you believe that your social content should do? What is its role in your marketing strategy? To build awareness? To get likes and “hearts”? To sell something? Probably all of the above, depending on what your business or product is about, but at its core what truly earns people’s attention over time better than conversations?

So at FleishmanHillard, we’ve been playing with this concept of sparking conversations through content. Can we create content that is so compelling to our clients’ fans that it sparks the most valuable actions on social? These are the actions that spread content and generate conversation through sharing or tagging a friend… um, WOM.

It’s nuanced, right? But it’s important because as us agency-folk (or client partners) review content, we should be grading its potential on whether or not someone might want to talk about it versus if we think it’ll get a click on the ol’ heart button. Because, if you can inspire someone to talk about your content/product/story you’ve created another WOM channel to build that conversation, and ultimately drive consideration amongst their friends on social and (the cherry on top) convert that audience to do that thing or buy that product you were talking about in the first place.