There is a tremendous amount of innovation in content and social media marketing these days, and this can be both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because of the wealth of technology coming onto the market; a curse, because navigating the field and picking the best solutions can be a challenge. E.g., I am sure most have had the experience of jumping eagerly into a new project – one that takes us out of our comfort zones, and requires new tools – only to get frustrated by the range of options. Or, just when we think we have it down with our tool set, we hear about goofy sounding startups that are supposed to offer a silver bullet and just have to be checked out. It is a wonder anyone has time to do real work (I mean the fun stuff, like crafting content, planning campaigns, and working the social channels); after all, who knew that marketing would demand such tech chops when we signed on? It’s a veritable arms race of tech– and while this can be a boon for some founders and VCs, it can tie CMOs and their teams up in knots. Some say that the CMO’s tech budget will surpass the CIO’s. While I wrote in Content Marketing Moment of Zen that it is a mistake to get too attached to technology, let’s face it, you do need technology to do your job. Let me say it another way: all things being equal, the marketing teams that have and master the best tech tools will win (however, I still believe that creativity and top notch content trump tech). So, I thought that it would be helpful to provide tips on how to navigate the tech landscape: i.e., that explains how to select the best tools and put them to work; and sought the help of a recognized expert in the field for advice on this. Flexing the Tech – A Conversation with CMI’s Robert Rose In Content Marketing: Clearing up the Confusion, I wrote about the challenges of defining content marketing, and also discussed the differences between content and social media marketing. I thought that a good topic for a follow-up post would be to list the toolsets needed to support content vs. social media marketing. I sought Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI’s) Joe Pulizzi’s advice on this, and he put me in touch with Robert Rose, who leads CMI’s end user client consulting practice. The timing was good, as they are working on a series of four reports on technology (the first one will be out next month, and will provide an overview of 15 vendors). Robert and I had a phone conversation followed up by emails, and in the course of our discussions it occurred to me that the broader topic of technology adoption might be even more interesting. He offered a very elegant answer to some of the confusion about content vs. social media marketing, helped me understand how the tool sets differ, and also addressed the questions about tech proliferation and adoption. Q: Can you please comment on the state of tech in content marketing? We are often asked by clients about this, VCs are interested too. It is a time of rapid growth and change. Some of the enterprise software vendors have failed to keep up, and those that are keeping up are usually doing so through acquisitions. The overall trend is that there is lots of disruptive technology in overlapping areas. E.g., you have the managing and optimizing content part, and then tools that answer the question: “How am I doing?” Many of the lines that separate these are starting to blur – where vendors feel they need to put all manner of analytics into their systems to give the client insight into performance, but are then overlapping with all the other analytics tools that the client may be using. You also have content collaboration (these help with workflows), and also content management and optimization. Q: How do content marketing tools differ from those needed for social media marketing? The functionality between the two can be similar – but the easiest explanation is to look at it as long form vs. short form content. The tools for social media management are just for managing multiple social channels. You can look at social tech as anything that can be managed through an API, and that connects to the social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They provide easy and centralized interfaces for teams to manage conversations With content marketing technology, it is more about managing long form content, and publishing across those channels. It is about persistent, multi-format content versus quick, conversational updates. With social it is about creating, scheduling and measuring; Hootsuite is a great example. Social tools go from pro-sumer (e.g., HootSuite and TweetDeck) to enterprise (e.g., Salesforce, Adobe, and Sprinklr). Content marketing technology, on the other hand, often is tied to demand generation and lead nurturing, i.e. creating content that supports the sales process. The basis of managing the process is in Web content management – and then, as we move to the “how are we doing” part, you get into marketing automation. This is why you see big CMS companies offering up more marketing automation type features, and why you see smaller CMS solutions focused so heavily on making it easier to manage multiple channels. The nexus of the two is social publishing, which is now really table stakes for any solution ranging from simple CMS on up to enterprise-scale systems. There are different tools for metrics for both sides For social metrics, these include everything from showing how you are doing on a channel to multi-channel metrics. With social platforms, the social teams are generally measured on engagement. With content marketing, the metrics generally tie back to CRM and marketing automation systems, and tell a story in terms of sales and leads. Q: Are we any closer to the closed loop marketing Holy Grail? That is one of the biggest challenges; it is there, but the loops are now much smaller, more iterative, and how tightly closed can be a subjective measure. Q: Isn’t there any meaningful Integration between content and social media marketing systems? And is it a game of best-of-breed, point solutions versus suites? We talk about the “appification of marketing”, that is, the emergence of many point solutions that solve specific problems. Many of these solutions do indeed play well with others – but, in many ways content management across different channels is today’s “media buy”. In other words, as a marketer, my need to change quickly and flexibly is much more important than my need to integrate into the larger institution. If a particular channel (a social platform, or a blog, etc.) becomes ineffective – I need to be able to unplug as quickly as it went up. So, the need for that particular piece of technology can disappear or re-appear fluidly. Unfortunately, right now many enterprise apps are not built this way. In order to launch a new content channel, or collaborative workflow, or method of measurement/management is still a big, unwieldy process requiring lots of technical assistance. So, many marketing organizations are simply routing around the institution – and deploying the new, disruptive technology. This is why you’re seeing so many point solutions right now. But, at some point, this is going to get solved. The pendulum will swing back. They will eventually come together. Q: So where does this leave us? How does the average social media and content marketing manager who is laboring in the trenches deal with “tool creep?” I think the biggest mistake that marketing teams make when buying technology is that they buy based on “best result” rather than on what best facilitates the process. It’s kind of like if I have a tree I need to cut down. I go look at my options and I could buy a handsaw, hire a service to do it, rent a two-person tree saw, or buy a giant chainsaw… If I compare those based on an Excel spreadsheet “best ROI”, I might determine that the chainsaw is the fastest, best way to cut down a tree. But if I don’t have any knowledge of how to use the chainsaw, I might cut my arm off. And, even if I don’t, I may have spent way more than I needed for the *one* tree I needed to cut down, and now the chain saw sits unused. Instead, marketers need to take a step back and ask themselves what it is that we are really trying to accomplish – and what’s the best tool for us to facilitate our process. They should ask if their existing tools will do what they need, and if not – what are the required processes that will need to be made easier with a tool in order to deliver that ability to change? Q: Is there a methodology that you can suggest for whittling the list down? How do you pick the right “horse” to bet on? I think the key is that instead of developing the “wish list” and throwing it over the wall to IT or a technical consultant to pick a technology – it’s again understanding what your needs are. So, I recommend that marketers truly sit down and (with technology people in the room) and take the time to walk through what and how they need to accomplish. Develop a philosophy of how technology will be used in the organization. Then, use that philosophy to develop a set of business requirements for any technology you’re considering – and make sure that they are prioritized. Then (and only then) do the technical requirements get developed. The right “horse” is not necessarily the one with the shiniest features or customers most like you. The right horse is the one that can demonstrate that your use case (the one you developed in the business requirements) can be facilitated the best with their technology. Q: Are there a few tried and true “go to” solutions? Do you need to constantly reevaluate these as others come on the market? It’s tiered I think. So – I like to think of foundational technology (e.g. your CMS, CRM, Data Management, etc…) where I’m going to spend a lot of time, make a solid investment and be loathe to change it. At an enterprise level, this might be your WCMS, or your CRM, or your PIM. For SMBs this might be your blogging platform or inbound marketing solution. Then, I have technology at a business process level that feeds into my foundational level, where I can switch it out as I occasionally re-visit my marketing strategy, or, when new market conditions pull me in a different direction. They might be social channel management, or content curation solutions. Then, finally, I have a top layer of technology. I’m always re-evaluating, constantly trying new things, seeing if it works, and experimenting. Those pieces can eventually inform changes to the other two tiers. Every business will have unique candidates for those levels. But the key is that even if you buy a suite of these tools from one vendor, you should still be able to turn on and/or off the features/function that make sense to you as you need them.
About Bob Geller
This monthly Content Marketing and Social Media column is contributed by Bob Geller. Bob is president of Fusion PR, and has a background that combines a solid grounding in technology with a 25 year record of success in sales, marketing, and public relations. Bob joined Fusion in 2000, and has helped build it into a leading independent tech PR agency. He has led client teams that have achieved outstanding results in areas ranging from enterprise tech, to telecom, online, CE, financial and clean tech. Bob also helped launch Social Fluency, a subsidiary of Fusion that develops dynamic social media practices which are integrated with traditional PR efforts. Bob has provided critical commentary to publications such as CMO Magazine, PR Week, PR News, and Bulldog Reporter. He created and manages the influential blog Flack’s Revenge, and has contributed to Cision Navigator, Ragan’s PR Daily, and Handshake 2.0, among others. +Bob Geller