Contest: Does Social Strategy Need Content?

C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley

C.C. and Ann, image by John Wall

It’s time for another Zoetica book contest! This time we are giving away five copies of Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman‘s Content Rules to the person who best answers a question posed by Ann, “Can you have a social media strategy without a content strategy?” To answer and win, please comment on the Zoetica site. As with prior contests, to get the conversation started Kami, Julie and yours truly will also endeavor to answer Ann’s question.

The short answer is no, you do not need content to have a social strategy. This assumes a conservative definition of content: The intentional creation of writing, video, imagery and/or audio that is produced for a social community. If you include conversations then yes, you must have content as part of your social strategy.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a social strategy without content is smart. There are different factors that may make an organization lean that way, mostly time and resource capacity issues as well as rigid cultures and governmental regulation. The following two sections demonstrate different social approaches that don’t necessarily include that conservative definition of content, and why content makes them better.

Other Approaches to Social

Chess Board
Image by Sam Howzit

In Welcome to the Fifth Estate, four types approaches or strategies towards social media are outlined. Content is the second approach discussed. An excerpt of the book ran in PR News this May, which highlighted the other three strategies:

1) Participation: This may refer to an individual (often called a social media or community manager) or, in more sophisticated organizations, a team of people whose job is to have conversations with their communities of interest. The primary purposes of their activity are interaction, building trust and developing relationships. Most customer service accounts on Twitter fall into this category.

Participation also is a precursor for success in the other three primary areas of social media strategy. In many ways it’s a two-step of listening and responding—basic, functional and necessary for any kind of dance, and utilitarian enough that you can get away with it for one night.

One of the best examples of an organization that fosters participation is the nonprofit Social Media Club. It’s no coincidence that co-founder Chris Heuer is one of the original proponents of participation marketing on the social Web. Social Media Club began in 2006 with meetings in San Francisco. Now more than 200 chapters exist around the globe to host conversations on and offline that explore key societal issues raised by transformative social technologies.

3) Top-Down: Many organizations assume they will not be able to invest the time in the grassroots effort necessary for full community participation, nor do they want to commit to a long-term content offering. Instead, they opt to build relationships with influencers, people that the larger community trusts and responds to, from bloggers to active social network participants. They seek blog coverage or social network profile endorsements using a relevant offering to the influencer. By building relationships with influencers, they hope the communities that follow those leading voices will follow suit.

The Gap engaged in an outreach program before the 2010 BlogHer conference, offering 100 influential female bloggers a $400 shopping allowance and a styling appointment at a local Gap. These women were described as influencers and speakers at a conference where Gap clothes would be seen by hundreds of other women. Many speakers tweeted using a #gapmagic hashtag and blogged about their experience, and most wore their new Gap clothes during the conference.

4) Empowerment: The hardest of all forms of social media strategy, empowerment assumes that the organization will commit to building a far-flung community. The empowered Fifth Estate members create conversations and ideas that are so extensive they exist well beyond the organization’s reach. Instead, the company or nonprofit becomes much more of a host and facilitator, available when called upon. The organization then creates initiatives and helps to sustain the effort over the long term. Crowdsourcing—including large-scale multi-city events, cause-based initiatives and far-flung internal organizational communities—is the most common example of the empowerment strategy.

Consider 350’s efforts with this type of strategy. The nonprofit organizes an annual global day of environmental action to reduce carbon dioxide omissions. It uses social tools to help local organizers develop their own events, to promote the events and to keep their stakeholders informed. In 2010, 350 organized 10/10/10 Work Parties to get people focused on actions, signing up more than 7,000 event organizers in 180 countries.

Why Content Makes Social Better

Chocolate Bark
Image by Rositata

Just because you can go online and achieve results without creating content, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. There are so many benefits to content in its own right, which Ann and C.C. make clear in their excellent book (see Beth Kanter’s review).

Beyond that it makes all of the other strategies easier. Sometimes content can serve as air cover, supporting initiatives like blogger relations with great conversation starters, links, round-ups, and counterpoints.

In the case of participation, if you are in tune with a community, what better way to serve its informational needs than with great content? This is like the old two-step. In a conversation with Klout CEO Joe Fernandez he mentioned almost anyone on his network with scores of 70 or higher is a content producer. Not that Klout scores are a good metric, but it just goes to show you, content sparks conversations.

On the crowdsourcing side, there are many outcomes that don’t involve content such as votes, new intellectual property and events like 350’s, but content helps support support these initiatives. How-tos, highlighting community member successes, etc. are examples of smart community management. Further, a good portion of crowdsourcing efforts seek user generated content in its own right.

Yes, it can be tough to produce content, but there are methods for making it easier (also covered in Content Rules). And in tandem with other approaches, content makes for a much more comprehensive, strong social strategy.

So what do you think? Can you have a social media strategy without a content strategy? To answer and win your copy of Content Rules, please comment on the Zoetica site.

This post was added to the Fifth Estate Strategy wiki.