Dave Kerpen | Content is Fire and Social Media is Gasoline
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Content is Fire and Social Media is Gasoline

Content is Fire and Social Media is Gasoline

You know what happens when most companies launch a new, branded mobile application or other content-rich marketing program intended to effectively combine information and promotion and set the world ablaze with a viral sensation?


When you finish the app, or start blogging, or begin answering questions, you have not reached the finish line; you have reached the starting line. Too many businesses break out the champagne just because something new was created.

To get a better sense for how businesses can use content and social media together to be successful, I talked with my friend Jay Baer. Jay Baer is the author of the brand new New York Times bestseller . I asked Jay to summarize the concepts of Youtility, and this is what he told me:

“Youtility” is marketing that is so useful, people would pay for it if asked. Because this is often an inexpensive proposition when considered in the context of the overall marketing programs of a company, these efforts are viewed as relatively minor and thus don’t receive dedicated promotional support, even at launch. Instead, they are promoted alongside the regular flotsam and jetsam of the brand’s communication: a link here, a mention there. This dramatically curtails exposure – counteracting the entire premise of the Youtility.

You have to market your marketing.

This concept of using marketing to promote your marketing is also the best possible case for using social media, which far too often devolves into self-referential inanities that career employees wouldn’t even care about, much less casual customers. This frustrating scenario of brands talking, talking, talking in social media but never saying anything of value other than “we’re great, you should give us more of your money” is the epitome of social media misuse.

On the whole, which is more inherently interesting and useful, and thus more likely to be an effective marketing message? That Columbia Sportswear sells a variety of outdoor gear, or that Columbia Sportswear has a mobile app that shows you how to tie knots called “What Knot to do in the Great Outdoors?”

Remember, companies of every size, shape and description are competing pixel-for-pixel for attention with real people whom we know and love. You break through that clutter by being useful, not by shouting louder.

Content is fire, and social media is the gasoline.

It’s not about keeping it real; it’s about keeping it relevant. If your social media informs more often than it promotes, you’re on the right track. If it is deeply helpful rather than deeply promotional, you’re probably on a roll!

Here’s a real example of this fire/gasoline idea, featuring back-to-back messages sent by interactive marketing software company ExactTarget on their Twitter channel last summer:

The first Tweet is a yawn-inducing corporate message about a new version of the company’s software, made even less relevant because it’s only for people seeking a German or Brazilian Portuguese version of the software – likely a very small subset of the brand’s followers on Twitter. Total waste.

But in the very next Tweet, ExactTarget gets it entirely right. Sent during the London Olympic Games, the message includes a link that, when clicked, accessed a very interesting infographic, showing which Olympic sports have the most Tweets about them, the most followers on Twitter, and several other statistical tidbits:

Does the infographic explicitly provide information about ExactTarget’s products and services? Absolutely not. Instead it uses real-time relevancy to create interest and an inferred topical tie, since one of the company’s products is software that allows companies to monitor and engage on Twitter.

Your Most Important (and Most Often Overlooked) Audience.

Indeed, you can use online marketing to raise awareness of the truly helpful information you’re providing to customers and prospective customers, and smart organizations like Columbia Sportswear and ExactTarget are successfully implementing those ideas. But there is another critically important audience for your Youtility that is consistently overlooked – your employees.

If you are truly, inherently useful, the manifestation of that approach will be just as valuable to your team members as it is to customers, maybe even more so. You know who is particularly interested in an application that shows you how to tie knots? People who work for Columbia Sportswear. Many are outdoors enthusiasts and are disproportionately likely to find themselves in a situation that calls for just the right knot.

In a world where personal relationships and social connectivity are the coin of the realm, your employees are your single greatest marketing engine. With the exception of huge, global consumer brands like Coca-Cola, the collected social connections of your employees exceed the social connections of your company, and those employees are perfectly situated to create awareness of your helpful Youtility marketing.

What is your content and gasoline?


Now it’s your turn. What companies do you think do a great job of being helpful or useful? What is your “Youtility”? What useful information do youprovide to your customers and prospects? And how do you get the word out about it through social media? Please let me know in the Comments section below, and please do share this post with your network.


Jay Baer is a social media and content strategist & speaker, and author of the New York Times bestsellier Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.

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