Journalists, entrepreneurs, marketers and media folks recently attended a great panel hosted by Outbrain’s Content Conversations meetup.

Shane Snow, Co-Founder of our meetup partner Contently, led Katrina Craigwell, Digital Marketing at GE, and Jonathan Perelman, VP Agency Strategy and Industry Development at BuzzFeed through a discussion on one of the hottest in topics in digital media: how brands interact with consumers on social media platforms.

As much as “native advertising” and branded content’s been covered recently, there’s still a sense, according to Perelman, that brands are just now getting their bearings in the social media realm.  Craigwell and Perelman shared insights on what brands should consider as they seek to engage consumers on social platforms.

Let People In

We tend to think of marketing as a “push” exercise, don’t we?

How can I push my message out to consumers?

Let’s make a big marketing push this year!

How can I extend my reach?

To take a page out of Paul Arden’s book, content marketing is all about thinking the opposite.  Sometimes we need to turn off our marketing caps and think like the everyday human beings we are trying to reach.  In Craigwell’s world, that means rather than obsessing over how to push a product or sales pitch, take a deep breath and consider letting people in.

Let consumers see who you are as a brand.  What inspires you?  What are your values?  What is your knowledge expertise?  What makes you laugh?  Don’t be afraid to take them behind the scenes or show them a side of your brand you don’t typically “market.”  Content allows you to share stories that resonate, but in order to share yours, you have to know what it is.  Coming up with honest answers to the aforementioned questions is a great way to start.

Make It Shareable

There’s “viral” media and then there’s “shareable” media.  If you think you’re in the viral media business, you’re in the wrong business.  By its own definition, viral media spreads itself.  Creating media in a vacuum and hoping it propagates around the web is not a strategy, and anyway, you don’t want your content to spread itself.  You want to inspire living, breathing human beings to share the content with their friends, family and peers.

Ask yourself this: would I share this?  Creating content with this simple question in mind is a great way to steer your content toward positive engagement rather than the vast viral media graveyard.  It’s also the difference between antiquated SEO (link-building) and smart SEO (engaging content).

Work Together, Play Together

BuzzFeed is among a number of key players ushering in a new era of digital media partnerships, as publishers and brands find that they more in common than real estate constrictions on a web page.  Content marketing is teaching both groups how to come together to create engaging experiences for their mutual audiences.  With new territory comes mistakes, but as Perelman put it, therein lies the opportunity as well.  These content partnerships are so new, the sky’s the limit on how far brands and publishers go to engage audiences and create something special across platforms.

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