Brands are publishers

If you're a brand with a Facebook page and a Twitter account and you're consistently posting updates, whether you like it or not, you're a publisher.

If you're a brand with a Facebook page and a Twitter account and you're consistently posting updates, whether you like it or not, you're a publisher. If you don't think of yourself as one, you need to start.

As much as early social media zealots would claim that “old media” is dying, it's ironic how much social media can learn from the “old” ways of publishers. When publishing is done right, it is content with a purpose, not just to fill a calendar or to hit that magic number of eight tweets a day, timed to release every hour on the hour during business hours. That leads to our new industry catch-phrase: “content strategy.”

The phrase content strategy is misused quite a bit. To be clear, content strategy is not simply “using content as part of your marketing strategy,” or having an editorial calendar and making sure it's full. At its heart, content strategy is aligning business goals with audience needs in the proper context. Just like publishers define a clear beat and a unified approach to what they promise and what they deliver, brands in social media should do the same.

The key phrase above is “audience needs.” In the social media era, your competitive set is no longer your direct competitor; it's every other brand, site, or influencer that's trying to get your customer's attention. Every CMO is hearing how they have to become content machines. With every brand publishing at breakneck speed, we're in an information glut like never before. So producing great content isn't enough – brands have to produce great content that meets an audience's wants and needs, and deliver it in such a way that they'll find it and ideally opt-in in one of a number of ways to see more like it. This consideration is layered on top of that brand's core business. That's the expectation for marketing today, whether b-to-b or b-to-c. A sound content strategy will help you elevate your content above the rest, and then here's the kicker: drive an actual business goal.

Today, we live and work in an environment that can almost be thought of as two or three separate Internets. These are the walled garden of Facebook and its Social Graph, Twitter and its limited interface with Google and Facebook, and then Google both in terms of its properties and its massive search engine, which is still the main interface to the Web. As a brand keeping the publisher model in mind, it's crucial to think of this complex ecosystem as you design your approach to publishing. If you are delivering your best content on Facebook and Twitter alone without tying them back to an owned channel, you're suffering from content decay. You're missing a huge chunk of audience and value, both short-term and long-term, because you're not anchoring that material where Google Search can index it and searchers can find it later. Even Facebook's just-announced embeddable posts likely won't help bridge the search problem.

Thinking like a publisher involves some other considerations as well, like how you organize and resource your content team, which is typically not just your marketing team, how you track and measure the totality of your publishing output as an organization, and how you pace your editorial flow to show your audience something new and engaging at a deeper level from time to time.

While there are sound processes and approaches that can arm brands to be better publishers that are different from the standard social media guru rulebook, there's no one magic metric or trick that applies across verticals, organizations, and business goals. I always chuckle when a study is released and it makes a claim like, "The best time to post to Facebook is 5 pm EST on a Wednesday.” Now watch Facebook at 5 pm on a Wednesday, as your wall fills with dozens of updates from all the brands you follow -- and they all get lost in the shuffle.  

When I read a study like that, my counsel is, “Let's not post at 5 pm on Wednesday.”

Josh Hallett is SVP at PNConnect, the digital team at Porter Novelli.

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