Small businesses are failing at content marketing (Or is it failing them?)

5 minutes read

Many “experts”, including me, have pushed content marketing as a means to grow your brand’s reach and increase your customer acquisition opportunities. In fact, way back in June of 2014 I wrote a blog post called “What is content marketing and why is it so important?”

In that post, I spoke about how imperative it was to be present on a variety of channels where your customers spend time, including blogs like this one, Facebook, Twitter, etc. In the intervening months A LOT has happened in the world of content marketing, and this post is a bit of a state of the union for entrepreneurs.

Organic reach is plummeting

The first thing to understand is how few people see your unpaid Facebook and, increasingly, Twitter posts.

In May of 2012, Facebook went public and, in November 2013, Twitter followed suit. This is important to note because, as a result, both platforms went from pleasing their users as a priority to trying to please investors as a priority. That’s a big deal.

The fallout from this has been a game changer for the organic—or unpaid—reach that businesses have on these platforms. Suddenly it was not in shareholders’ best interest to allow companies, big and small, free access to their audience.

Facebook has been the most overt about limiting the distribution of unpaid posts to followers, but the organic reach spigot has begun to close on Twitter too. The result has been that companies large and small have been forced to buy advertising to reach audiences. Have you noticed a lot more sponsored posts in your Facebook and Twitter feeds? Well, that’s part of the reason why.

Twitter in trouble

These platforms present other challenges for entrepreneurs. This is especially evident for Twitter. It has grown exponentially as a communications platform, but become a noisy broadcast medium—to the point where it’s no longer useful as a tool to engage with customers.

For example, if I were to get up and leave my Twitter feed for five minutes, I would come back to anywhere from 300 to 400 tweets that had been posted in my absence and will never be read by me. The Twitter feed is so fast that those “content opportunities” are lost… forever. So, now companies need to figure out how to leverage their audience on Twitter differently and that’s not easy.

An approach I recommend to clients is to use Twitter’s search engine to find topics of interest to your company and follow the conversation of like-minded folks. Then, actually engage with them. This is a super time-consuming way to leverage Twitter, but it works. This is the type of effort that content marketing in 2016 requires. And it’s an example of how you have to adjust the way you use tools based on how your target audience uses them.

The rise of advertorial and branded content

As organic reach on social has dropped, other options have risen to take their place. The creation of advertorial content platforms like BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Huffington Post have led to a transition of promotional messaging from social media to these channels.

Why? Because they get a ridiculous amount of traffic and their content is shared widely on social media. Depending on your business, it’s worth thinking about how to get your content on these platforms or paying to have it placed.

Beyond social media and sponsored content we also have branded content opportunities with things like video which can take you well beyond your local market. Check out GoPro’s YouTube Channel. Long form content platforms like Medium and Reddit also allow you to position your company in front of their audiences for free. The continual challenge is to create compelling and interesting content for your audience.

The core problem—branding is not a priority (Who cares?)

For many small businesses, creating a strong brand identity is the last thing on the to-do list, when it should be the first.

So who cares? This is both a facetious and serious question.

Who cares you exist? Who cares about what you have to say?

If you don’t have a tight focus on what your brand actually represents, then your content may not align with what interests your ideal customers. You could be spinning your wheels and not getting the attention you want as a result.

That’s the content part of content marketing. Do you know exactly who you are and does what you say matter to your customers?

Small businesses don’t invest in finding their community (aka their tribe)

At the same time, you already have fans—clients who come back time after time, advocate for your company and defend your good name at cocktail parties and on Facebook.

You need to find them, continually interact with them on the topics that matter to them, and get them engaging with you. Ask them questions, get their opinions, challenge them, give them something for their loyalty, and do it all over and over again.

What does it all mean?

Content marketing is a great tool for small businesses. However, as the digital world changes, it will continue to evolve and be challenging.

Keeping an eye on your customers and the new trends that matter to them allows you to optimize your content strategy and stay connected to your community. Evaluate the success of your efforts with data (i.e. Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, etc.) but also get feedback directly from your audience.

Struggling with your content marketing efforts? Tell us what you’re doing and what might not be working.