“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” goes the famous line from the classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And so it often goes with brand-related content. Marketers often produce massive volumes of content. And yet, in many cases, they are having a tough time quenching the thirst of their target audiences with their content marketing efforts.

By now, most companies have come to recognize the benefits of content marketing and have been aggressively stepping up their efforts to develop new content assets, including whitepapers, eBooks, webinars, infographics, case studies and buyers’ guides. In fact, according to preliminary research findings from the upcoming 2015 Benchmark Report on B2B Content Marketing and Lead Generation, more than half (52%) of marketers allocated a greater portion of their budgets to content marketing over the last 12 months compared to the previous 12 months. What’s more, more than one-quarter (26%) plan to more than double their spending on content marketing over the next 12 months.

Companies “get found” not only by posting the content to their own company websites but also by distributing it through any number of third-party properties, including popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn — and even including, more recently, sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Vine. To drive engagement, the content needs to be highly relevant and compelling based on the differing wants, needs and objectives of prospects and customers. Indeed, these wants, needs and objectives can vary dramatically. A content asset that resonates with one target segment may fail to engage a different target audience. Generic, one-size-fits-all content generally fails to move the needle on marketing ROI.

The Role of Social Data
Unfortunately, content assets are typically developed in a vacuum. Marketers simply take their best guesses as to what specific topics they think will resonate most effectively with their different target audiences, and often based on whatever marketing messages the company hopes to disseminate. Their efforts are often a crap shoot and the results are often disastrous.

With advances in social listening and data analytics, companies now have the opportunity to gain real insights into what matters most to prospects. Marketers can understand, at a granular level, what information their target audiences may actually be seeking and, also, how best to present that information.

Social data can reveal how prospects are going about conducting their research. It can reveal what questions they’re asking and where they’re getting answers. It can even reveal what specific levers reside at the forefront of people’s purchase decisions and what factors are influencing those decisions.

Beyond informing content development activities for future programs, marketers can analyze social data to track and measure response to campaigns already in progress. They can understand what content is connecting with different intended audiences — as well as what content may be missing the mark. They can measure audience engagement – or lack thereof – against intended or expected behaviors. They can measure program uptake and even predict the likelihood of success in terms of triggering the desired calls-to- action, be it new website registrations, content downloads, social media shares and “likes” – or, more importantly, metrics like increased sales revenue.

Today, social listening and analytics can go a long way toward improving content marketing activities, systematically identifying emerging topics by narrowly-defined audiences and providing marketers with the insights from social data they need to drive effective content development. Integrated social publishing platforms can be used to not only promote content across a range of relevant sites, but also track results — to the point of integrating with sales force, call center and marketing automation systems. Only by taking full advantage of social data can marketers drive optimal results with their content marketing activities.