Content Marketing and Social MediaYes, yet another year (2012) is gone. I’d love to say that over the past year we’ve seen major social media and content marketing advances in the HVACR industry, but unfortunately that’s not the case. However, we are making progress.

Over the past few years, both contractors and wholesalers have been so infatuated with social media tools, they almost completely forgot the importance of what goes into the tools – the content, the stories … the real substance that makes social media work.

In recent years, according to our latest content marketing research, approximately nine in 10 businesses create original content and information to attract and retain customers. The majority of those create portions of that for social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. This is great news, until you look a bit deeper into the statistics. Of those creating original content, only about one-third feel that what they are doing is effective. Why is that the case?

Over the past six months, I’ve traveled to more than 50 locations talking about social media and content marketing. At every speech, I ask how many marketers and small businesses have a documented plan for their online content and social media. The result is staggering … it’s less than 5 percent. That means that contractors and wholesalers are creating lots of content and distributing that content all over the Web, but without a clear vision and strategy behind it. Actually, since this is the case, I’m surprised one in three are seeing any kind of success at all.

So, in preparation for this article, I wanted to give some guidance as to things your organization should actively pursue instead of just forecasting social media (as I did in last year’s article). Here are six key strategies that I believe you should be seriously considering for 2013. Good luck!

1. Develop your content marketing mission statement

Do you have a content marketing mission statement? Do you have a rationale and a plan for why you are developing content for your social media, website and other properties? As we discussed, most of you reading this probably do not.

This is a major problem. How can small businesses execute a content strategy if they don’t have a clear vision for why they are developing the content in the first place?  

Every person who touches the content marketing and social media program should know, by heart, what the mission of the content strategy is. Remember, it’s not about you … it’s about solving the problems of your customers.

Think of it this way: What if you were the leading trade magazine for your niche area? What if your goal was not to first sell products and services but to impact your readers with amazing information that would change their lives and behaviors?

Inc. magazine has its mission statement in the first line of its About Us page:

Welcome to Inc.com, the place where entrepreneurs and business owners can find useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration for running and growing their businesses. 

Let’s dissect this a bit. Inc.’s mission statement includes:

  • The core audience target: entrepreneurs and business owners.
  • What will be delivered to the audience: useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration.
  • The outcome for the audience: growing their businesses.

Inc.'s mission statement is also incredibly simple and includes no words that could be misunderstood. Perfecto!

That’s exactly what you need to do for your content and social media program in 2013.

2. A new mind-set: Become the leading informational provider for your niche

Contractors and wholesalers aren’t taking their content seriously enough. Sure, we are creating content in dozens of channels for multiple marketing objectives. But is your organization’s mind-set focused on being the leading provider of information for your customers? If not, why isn’t that your priority?

Look, your customers and prospects can get their information from anywhere to make buying decisions. Why shouldn’t that information come from you? Shouldn’t that at least be the goal? Time to get serious.

3. Utility is key

I absolutely love the Char-min Clean Bathroom App. If you are desperate to find a clean bathroom nearby, and this app provides the answers for you, what do you think the odds are that you would buy Charmin the next time you go to the store?

What if you used Kraft’s iFood app to help you make your next home-cooked meal?

Small businesses find regular answers to their operational challenges at AMEX’s Open Forum.  

You don’t have to be a big brand like these to create helpful content for your customers. Take a hard look at your content and see if what you are producing is actually useful for your customers. Is it making their lives better or jobs easier in some way?

4. Define and answer your customers’ questions

This is so easy to do, yet most of us don’t do it. Do you have a system in place to compile the questions your customers are asking and post your answers to those questions on the Web? The content opportunities that spring up from customer service and sales alone can support your content marketing strategy.

5. Employee involvement in content marketing

Take a look at these two projects:

  • Indium’s From One Engineer to Another blog.
  • OpenView Venture Partners OpenView Labs project.

These are two great small business examples of successful content initiatives that have helped to grow business, were developed from the ground up with a limited budget and were driven almost entirely by employee content.

The key... get a good editor to help your employees look like rock stars. If you do, they will be more apt to share that content with their networks, which is exactly what you need.

6. Co-creation

Andrew Davis’ new book Brandscaping discusses how content partnerships can work. Essentially, a brandscape is a collection of brands that work together to produce great content. I’m starting to believe that this is critical to the evolution of content marketing, as more brands struggle to manage the content marketing process. 

It’s true that many small businesses struggle with finding the funding for content marketing projects. Why not work with noncompetitive partners to develop amazing and compelling content for a similar customer? Could you be working with other wholesalers in noncompetitive areas? Can you bring wholesalers together that don’t compete with each other to create amazing eBooks, video series or blog posts?

Summary

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of contractors and wholesalers experiment with social media and content creation. While that’s perfectly understandable, and even necessary, the time for experimentation is over. Now is the time for serious marketers to develop a clear content marketing strategy before looking at social media, and even search engine optimization. Creating valuable, compelling and relevant content is the key to making social media and SEO work for you and your contractors. So take a step back and make the decision that in 2013, it’s time to get serious about publishing content. You’ll see, the results will follow.

Joe Pulizzi is founder of the Content Marketing Institute, the leading corporate destination for content marketing education. CMI produces Content Marketing World, the largest industry event, and Chief Content Officer magazine, which is circulated to more than 20,000 marketing professionals each quarter. Pulizzi was formerly CEO of SocialTract, the leading blogging service for HVACR professionals. Reach Joe at Twitter @JuntaJoe.